• cute •
Part of Speech: Adjective
Meaning: 1. Appealingly dainty. 2. Contrived or precious. 3. (Archaic) Shrewd, clever.
Notes: Our long-time friend Chris Stewart recommended this word as one of his pet peeves. It is one of the two positive words in English that are so mild as to border on the insulting (nice being the other). What a put-down to hear someone say, "You're so cute and have such a nice attitude." You can't be insulted because it is, well, a nice thing to say. But the words are so bland as to leave you wondering what has been said.
In Play: This word is OK if you use it in referring to children: "Letticia Romane's little girl is really cute; she looks like her father." Otherwise, it tends to take on negative connotations: "That was a cute trick, telling your mother that your dad wants her to pick him up, so that we can be alone."
Word History: Today's Good Word is the aphetic form of acute, i.e. acute without its initial [a]. It first appeared with the meaning of acute ("perceptive; shrewd") in a 1731 dictionary. It then went on to develop its own sense of "pretty, fetching", first recorded in a reference to "gals" in 1838. Acute comes to us from Latin acutus, the past participle of acuere "to sharpen". This word goes back to acus "needle". In Greek the same root shows up in akros "high up", found in acrobat from akros "high up" + bainein, bat- "to walk." (Today's Good Word is another suggestion from the acute—but decidedly not cute—mind of our old friend, Chris Stewart of South Africa.)
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