from The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, 4th Edition

  • transitive v. To render subtle: "I need to tell stories. I find new friends, new listeners, subtilize my lies” ( Helen Yglesias).
  • intransitive v. To argue or discuss with subtlety; make fine distinctions.

from Wiktionary, Creative Commons Attribution/Share-Alike License

  • v. To make subtle
  • v. To use subtle arguments or distinctions

from the GNU version of the Collaborative International Dictionary of English

  • intransitive v. To refine in argument; to make very nice distinctions.
  • transitive v. To make thin or fine; to make less gross or coarse.
  • transitive v. To refine; to spin into niceties.

from The Century Dictionary and Cyclopedia

  • To make thin or fine; make less gross or coarse; refine or etherealize, as matter; spin out finely, as an argument.
  • To refine; elaborate or spin out, as in argument; make very nice distinctions; split hairs.
  • Also spelled subtilise.

from WordNet 3.0 Copyright 2006 by Princeton University. All rights reserved.

  • v. make more subtle or refined
  • v. mark fine distinctions and subtleties, as among words
  • v. make (senses) more keen


Sorry, no etymologies found.


  • And if reputation and reward shall attend these conquests, which depend mostly on the fineness and niceties of words, it is no wonder if the wit of man so employed, should perplex, involve, and subtilize the signification of sounds, so as never to want something to say in opposing or defending any question; the victory being adjudged not to him who had truth on his side, but the last word in the dispute.

    God, Aids & Circumcision

  • Remember they are trying to subtilize, trying to eliminate the gross, and are trying to make everything in which the Light can function.

    The Artist and His Audience

  • Humboldt considers the Mexican Indian as destitute of all imagination, though when to a certain degree educated, he attributes to him facility in learning, a clearness of understanding, a natural turn for reasoning, and a particular aptitude to subtilize and seize trifling distinctions.

    The Mirror of Literature, Amusement, and Instruction Volume 13, No. 372, May 30, 1829

  • Avenarius, Willy, Mach, etc. subtilize this process so far as to reduce all experience to internal

    The Catholic Encyclopedia, Volume 5: Diocese-Fathers of Mercy

  • But Philosophy is more than the attempt to refine and subtilize our ordinary words so as to fit them for the higher service of interpretative thought, more even than the endeavour to improve the stock of ideas no matter how come by, by which we interpret to ourselves whatever it imports us to understand.

    Progress and History

  • Almost suffocating under the oppression of repressed feelings, using art only to repeat and rehearse for himself his own internal tragedy, after having wearied emotion, he began to subtilize it.

    Life of Chopin

  • To play with important truths, to disturb the repose of established tenets, to subtilize objections, and elude proof, is too often the sport of youthful vanity, of which maturer experience commonly repents.

    Christian Morals

  • Women are peculiarly fitted to further such a combination — first, from their greater tendency to mingle affection and imagination with passion, and thus subtilize it into sentiment; and next, from that dread of what overtaxes their intellectual energies, either by difficulty, or monotony, which gives them an instinctive fondness for lightness of treatment and airiness of expression, thus making them cut short all prolixity and reject all heaviness.

    The Essays of "George Eliot" Complete

  • By long brooding over our recollections, we subtilize them into something akin to imaginary stuff, and hardly capable of being distinguished from it.

    The Blithedale Romance

  • Germany was very limited: the disposition to subtilize, which was at that time universal throughout the German empire, led those who cultivated literature rather to refine upon what was before them, than to new inquiries.

    The Life of Hugo Grotius With Brief Minutes of the Civil, Ecclesiastical, and Literary History of the Netherlands


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  • She offers a glance of shy surmise

    That hints a hope of sweet surprise.

    Her gaze is expressive

    But never excessive;

    Her looks speak volumes but subtilize.

    December 24, 2016