c. 1300, sotilte, "skill, ingenuity," from Old French sotilte "skillfulness, cunning" (Modern French subtilité), from Latin subtilitatem (nominative subtilitas) "fineness; simplicity, slenderness," noun of quality from subtilis "fine, thin, delicate" (see subtle). From late 14c. as "cleverness, shrewdness; trickery, guile, craftiness," also "thinness, slenderness, smallness; rarity." The -b- begins to appear late 14c. in English, in imitation of Latin.
updated on December 21, 2013