Acute (meanings)

From Hull AWE
Jump to: navigation, search

The central meaning of the adjective (sometimes used substantively) acute is 'sharp'.

  • In general usage, it tends to mean
    • 'clever', or 'sharp-witted'; 'penetrating' or 'keen'. In this sense, it is often opposed to obtuse and 'stupid'. This sense has given rise to the aphetic shortening cute - sometimes, in the nineteenth century, having its origin pointed out by the spelling 'cute, with an apostrophe of omission.
    • The idea of 'penetrating' gives a use in describing sense-impressions and reactions to them, as in the 'acute pleasure' with which one might greet the 'acute smell' of a rose.
    • A person might also have a 'sharp' or 'keen' powerful perceptiveness of one of the five senses: someone with 'acute' hearing may be able to detect sounds, like bats' calls, inaudible to people with 'duller' hearing
  • Acute is specifically applied in certain academic subjects.
    • In geometry and other mathematical contexts, an acute angle is one of less than 90° (i.e. more pointed - sharper - than a right angle): it is contrasted with an obtuse angle (one more open than a right angle). An acute angle may be no less than 89°, and thus hard to for the human eye to distinguish from a right angle; but it is still termed acute, although non-experts sometimes think it means a very pointed angle.
      • An acute triangle is one all three of whose angles are less than 90°.
    • In medical contexts, acute is used in distinction from chronic. Acute is used of a disorder with a quick or sudden onset, a short course, or both. (It does not mean 'severe' in the medical context, although many lay-people use it that way.)
      • Medieval and Early Modern texts often identify a disease called 'the ague' (pronounced as two syllables, 'AIG-you', IPA: /ˈeɪg juː/) , which is derived from the same root as acute through the French aigu, and fièvre aigue, 'acute fever'.
      • It can be applied to aspects of the treatment and care of such disorders, as when a hospital may have acute beds and acute wards, being places reserved for occupation by sufferers from acute disorders.
    • The misuse of the word acute by laypeople in medical contexts may be related to its use in journalism, particularly in political contexts: an acute crisis is one that is (becoming) urgent, pressing or severe.
    • In the study of languages, and in typesetting, printing and writing, it is used to name a diacritic or written accent, the short line sloping upwards towards the right, used over certain letters in languages like French, where it can be seen over the 'e' in café (this 'é' has a 'closer' pronunciation than the unaccented 'e'), and Italian, where it is used to mark stress in such words as perché 'why/because'.
      • Acute was also formerly used in linguistic discussions particularly of classical Latin and Greek. It has been revived in some modern discussions of articulation, when considering front, palatal and coronal consonants.
    • In botany, acute is used to mean 'coming to a point', as for example the leaves of many species. It is also sometimes used to describe the acute angle at which one organ, such as a twig or leaf, leaves another, e.g. a branch or trunk.
    • In older writings about music, acute was used to mean 'high in pitch', or 'shrill'. It was typically used of the soprano register. Medieval theorists of music divided the registers into grave, acute and superacute.