critical (adj.)

1580s, "censorious, inclined to find fault," from critic + -al (1). Sense of "important or essential for determining" is from c. 1600, originally in medicine. Meaning "of the nature of a crisis, in a condition of extreme doubt or danger" is from 1660s; that of "involving judgment as to the truth or merit of something" is from 1640s; that of "having the knowledge, ability, or discernment to pass judgment" is from 1640s. Meaning "pertaining to criticism" is from 1741.

 Related: Criticality (1756; in the nuclear sense, 1950); critically (1650s, "accurately;" 1815, "in a critical situation"). In nuclear science, critical mass is attested from 1940.

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Definitions of critical from WordNet

critical (adj.)
marked by a tendency to find and call attention to errors and flaws;
a critical attitude
critical (adj.)
at or of a point at which a property or phenomenon suffers an abrupt change especially having enough mass to sustain a chain reaction;
a critical temperature of water is 100 degrees C--its boiling point at standard atmospheric pressure
go critical
critical mass
critical (adj.)
characterized by careful evaluation and judgment;
a critical dissertation
a critical reading
a critical analysis of Melville's writings
critical (adj.)
urgently needed; absolutely necessary;
a critical element of the plan
critical medical supplies
Synonyms: vital
critical (adj.)
forming or having the nature of a turning point or crisis;
a critical point in the campaign
the critical test
Synonyms: decisive
critical (adj.)
being in or verging on a state of crisis or emergency;
a critical illness
a critical shortage of food
an illness at the critical stage
critical (adj.)
of or involving or characteristic of critics or criticism;
critical acclaim