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Subtile, Subtly

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Subtile, Subtly

Postby Perry Lassiter » Sun Sep 23, 2012 5:37 pm

I was just writing an email and tried to use the word "subtilely," which the spellchecker flagged, as it did here. So I tried subtly, and both checkers were happy. But I was pretty sure there was a word "subtile," so I entered it in this sites dictionary search and go 14 hits. Here is the one from Etymology Online:

subtile Look up subtile at Dictionary.com
late 14c., "clever, dexterous," from O.Fr. subtil (14c.), from L. subtilis "fine, thin, delicate" (see subtle). A Latinized refashioning of the French source of subtle.

Apparently, both words are used, but subtly is the preferred adverb. This site's checker prefers subtitle, but it is, after all, a dictionary and would.

We have people from Tokyo to Los Angeles to Boston to England who frequent the site. How do you use the word(s)?
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Re: Subtile, Subtly

Postby misterdoe » Sun Sep 23, 2012 6:20 pm

This is my first time seeing or hearing of the word subtile but I have to admit, somehow the spelling subtly has never looked quite right to me. Ditto subtlety, though the spelling of that one that seems "more right" would be about subletting rather than being subtle. :?
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Re: Subtile, Subtly

Postby Philip Hudson » Sun Sep 23, 2012 6:23 pm

Us rednecks pronounce the b in subtile (sub-'tiel) so subtle won't do for us. But we don't use the word very much. Most of us aren't subtle enough to use it.

I suppose the word has a negative ring to it for me because the serpent was most subtle (Genesis 3:1). Newer translations use crafty which is also a word that sounds suspicious. I got this feeling long before the serpent being crafty was in the translations of Gen 3:1.

Solely negative connotations of subtle are not good. My wife gives me subtle advice that I cannot recognize as such. I can't freely enjoy subtle shades of colors. Maybe I can shuck this feeling, but now that I am far past my three score years and ten, it isn't likely. You younger folks learn this lesson and try to keep word connotations on an even keel.
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Re: Subtile, Subtly

Postby Slava » Sun Sep 23, 2012 9:05 pm

My tastes go toward the silent b of subtle. Linguistically it makes more sense, as the b of sub would normally get absorbed into the t, and it's easier to pronounce that way.

As to sinister, I can't agree. It is merely a quiet way of getting things done, or convincing others of something. There is nothing intrinsically sly about it.
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Re: Subtile, Subtly

Postby Perry Lassiter » Sun Sep 23, 2012 9:27 pm

Sinister to me always has an evil intent to it, as in something lurking to do harm. The word I believe comes from left-handed, which in ancient times ( and not so ancient for some) was just wrong.
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Re: Subtile, Subtly

Postby Slava » Sun Sep 23, 2012 9:58 pm

Perry Lassiter wrote:Sinister to me always has an evil intent to it, as in something lurking to do harm. The word I believe comes from left-handed, which in ancient times (and not so ancient for some) was just wrong.

Which is what I was getting at. Subtlety is not sinister.

As to left-handedness, it is only within our own lifetimes that it has become accepted. Even just thirty years ago it was considered a handicap.
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Re: Subtile, Subtly

Postby LukeJavan8 » Mon Sep 24, 2012 12:01 pm

I had an uncle who was left handed in school, and the
teachers tied his hand to the desk and made him use
his right hand. So that was back in the 20's or 30's I suppose.
Right on: not so very long ago.
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Re: Subtile, Subtly

Postby Philip Hudson » Mon Sep 24, 2012 7:00 pm

I realize that subtle is the preferred spelling and the b is silent. When I am in my redneck persona I am not usually very serious. I spell and pronounce subtle the same as you do, Slava.

As to sinister, all modern usage of the word I know about is negative. It is unfortunate that left handed people were seen to be so different in earlier times that the left has been used with a negative meaning. I have a lovely daughter who is a leftie, a grandson who is a great left handed pitcher, and a revered deceased father-in-law who was also left handed.

Gauche also means to the left and it also has a negative, but milder than sinister, definition.

In the not so distant past, lefties were abandoned and allowed to die. In China they were dropped into a pit reserved for baby girls and others unfit to live, and that wasn't too long ago. If there were pre-birth tests to determine whether a fetus would be left handed or right handed, some lefties would probably be aborted today. Lefties were forced to use their right hand and still are in some places. Our handwriting, golf clubs, bows (for shooting arrows) and a lot of other things assume right-handedness. I have the advantage of being somewhat ambidextrous. But that originally meant that either hand was the right hand and thus not sinister. Lefties were also feared and the feeling may well be universal. Clumsy people are said to have two left feet. I have heard that an Arab must eat with his/her right hand only. I don’t know if Freemasonry requires its members to be right handed, but it would stand to reason given their other membership restrictions.

I definitely do not believe left-handedness should be penalized. But I didn’t create or write history.

Where do you get your milder definition, Slava?
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Re: Subtile, Subtly

Postby Slava » Mon Sep 24, 2012 7:26 pm

I've always read and used subtle in the sense of acute, a find distinction, a wry wit, etc.

Looking up subtile I find that in that spelling it more often means crafty. Perhaps we are actually looking at two words from the same root.
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Re: Subtile, Subtly

Postby LukeJavan8 » Mon Sep 24, 2012 8:56 pm

Muslims/Arabs eat right handed, because the left hand is
reserved for cleaning themselves.
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Re: Subtile, Subtly

Postby Philip Hudson » Mon Sep 24, 2012 10:19 pm

I know that, Luke, but I wanted to avoid the hygiene lesson. But now that you mention it, yes, that is right (or left).
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