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subtlety

[suht-l-tee]
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noun, plural sub·tle·ties.
  1. the state or quality of being subtle.
  2. delicacy or nicety of character or meaning.
  3. acuteness or penetration of mind; delicacy of discrimination.
  4. a fine-drawn distinction; refinement of reasoning: the subtleties of logic.
  5. something subtle.
  6. History/Historical. an elaborate confection, ornate in construction and ornamentation, sometimes edible but more often made and used as a decoration for a table or buffet.
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Origin of subtlety

1300–50; Middle English subtelte, sutilte < Old French sutilte < Latin subtīlitāt- (stem of subtīlitās) fineness, equivalent to subtīli(s) subtile + -tāt- -ty2
Related formshy·per·sub·tle·ty, nounnon·sub·tle·ty, noun, plural non·sub·tle·ties.o·ver·sub·tle·ty, noun, plural o·ver·sub·tle·ties.
Dictionary.com Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2018

Related Words

nuance, intricacy, elegance, innuendo, distinction

Examples from the Web for subtlety

Contemporary Examples

Historical Examples

  • However, if the man worked with subtlety, the sea likewise worked with subtlety.

  • They bestowed upon him every beauty of person and every subtlety of wit.

    Imogen

    William Godwin

  • If the emperor say, 'You are speaking of Macedonius; I see your subtlety.

    The Formation of Christendom, Volume VI

    Thomas W. (Thomas William) Allies

  • Karl had not the subtlety to retort, “Ay, but does it say what we like?”

    The First Violin

    Jessie Fothergill

  • And this notion of his was not any proof of want of subtlety on his part.

    A Spirit in Prison

    Robert Hichens


British Dictionary definitions for subtlety

subtlety

noun plural -ties
  1. the state or quality of being subtle; delicacy
  2. a fine distinction or the ability to make such a distinction
  3. something subtle
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Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 2012 Digital Edition © William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd. 1979, 1986 © HarperCollins Publishers 1998, 2000, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009, 2012

Word Origin and History for subtlety

n.

mid-14c., from Old French soutilte, from Latin subtilitatem (nominative subtilitas), noun of quality from subtilis (see subtle).

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Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper