2

[1.] [OED:] acute, adj.    [=]    A. adj. 1. Med.
a. Of a disease, symptom, etc.: coming quickly to a crisis or conclusion; of rapid onset and short duration; of recent or sudden onset; contrasted with chronic adj. 2a; cf. subacute adj. 2.
In similar contexts: severe; critical. Also in figurative context.

[2.] Etymology: < classical Latin acūtus  [=]  sharpened, pointed, sharp, tapering, having sharp needles, keen, discriminating, keen-witted, shrewd, nimble, quick, pungent, acrid, high-pitched, piercing, shrill, treble, ...

[3.] [Etymonline:] late 14c., originally of fevers and diseases, "coming and going quickly"
(opposed to a chronic), from Latin acutus "sharp, pointed," figuratively "shrill, penetrating; intelligent, cunning," past participle of acuere "sharpen" (see acuity). ...

How did the Latin acuere "sharpen" evolve into definition [1.] above for 'acute'?
Sharpness can be quick or long. So how does sharpen connect with quick?

I am confused because OED states this definition for quickness for the Latin acūtus, but Etymonline doesn't broach quickness until the later reference to fevers and diseases.

Footnote: I read this other post on 'acute'.

  • Bonus points for explaining the adverb acutely. – stevesliva Jun 2 '15 at 3:47
  • 1
    This question declares something about a word (which is utterly wrong) and then discusses it. Don't we now close such questions that start off with totally incorrect points? – Fattie Jun 2 '15 at 5:19
  • 1
  • 1
    I think the meaning of "rapid onset" in medical contexts comes from a combination of the figurative meanings already present in Latin: "keen" and "violent" (acuta belli). – TRomano Jun 2 '15 at 10:48
  • ... (I got interrupted and the comment timed-out) and that's why we refer to such sudden diseases and maladies as "attacks". – TRomano Jun 2 '15 at 10:56
6

The imagery of sharp, which is the root of acute can easily expand to include quick in the mind of any astute observer:

1) Semantic Expansion ... a word increases its range of meaning over time ... hornbone-like protrusion on the heads of certain animals’, then ‘musical instrument’, then ‘drinking vessel’ of similar shape. The instance of arrivare just quoted belongs to this category.

Types of Semantic Change

arrive (v.)
c. 1200, "reach land, reach the end of a journey by sea,"
from Anglo-French ariver, Old French ariver (11c.) "to come to land,"
from Vulgar Latin arripare "to touch the shore,"
from Latin ad ripam "to the shore,"
from ad "to" (see ad-) + ripa "shore" (see riparian).
The original notion is of coming ashore after a long voyage. Of journeys other than by sea, from late 14c. Sense of "to come to a position or state of mind" is from late 14c. Related: Arrived; arriving.

etymonline.com

People notice a dull knife cuts through things slowly with great effort, while a sharp knife cuts through things quickly with minimal effort. People notice that a sharp mind cuts through problems to solutions more quickly. People notice a sharp eye focuses on the essential shapes more quickly. Eventually, the persistent association of quick in the mind of the observer connects itself to the word acute, which was borrowed from Latin by doctors specifically to describe a disease that harmed a body more quickly.

  • I'm not sure I understand this, SM. Can you give one example of acute being used to mean .. "quick" or whatever? Acute means sharp or perhaps "strong, and sharp". As in acute angle, acute disease, acute girl, etc (can't resist that pun). Acute is often used (you could say badly) to mean basically intelligent, insightful, wry ("an acute observor of the human condition" "an acute observation by Einstein on politics" etc). I've never ever heard it used in any way to mean "fast or quick"? An acute Porsche? Michael Schumacher or Usain Bolr are acute?? – Fattie Jun 2 '15 at 5:24
  • As you mention, @Joe, acute is still used to describe sharp, but it is actually used by doctors to describe diseases that develop quickly, like acute anemia, or will quickly harm a patient by virtue of their severity. Both medical uses--severe and precipitous--are expanded metaphoric applications of the sharp image behind acute. It seems you are arguing with the folks at Oxford, who generally have good reason for any denotation they ascribe to an English word. – ScotM Jun 2 '15 at 6:02
  • I don't know. Purely in medical usage, acute (as opposed to say "lingering") == "has short duration" or "fast onset" "fast exit". (I'm not convinced anyway that "fast onset" or "short duration" really means the same thing as "quick". Eg, there's no other sense, whatsoever, that doctors would use "acute" for "quick" ... "give me an acute massage" or "I want to be paid acutely" or "oxygen! acutely!!!" .. etc.) I just can't see any usage -- other than the specific medical usage, which sort of relates to quick, and fair enough -- of acute to mean "fast" or "quick". I can see no examples. – Fattie Jun 2 '15 at 8:24
2

I can try to give you my interpretation from a medical professional view as well as a linguistic enthusiast view. I'm going to steal Law Area 51's OED and Etymology portions.

[1.] [OED:] acute, adj.    [=]    A. adj. 1. Med. a. Of a disease, symptom, etc.: coming quickly to a crisis or conclusion; of rapid onset and short duration; of recent or sudden onset; contrasted with chronic adj. 2a; cf. subacute adj. 2. In similar contexts: severe; critical. Also in figurative context.

[2.] Etymology: < classical Latin acūtus  [=]  sharpened, pointed, sharp, tapering, having sharp needles, keen, discriminating, keen-witted, shrewd, nimble, quick, pungent, acrid, high-pitched, piercing, shrill, treble, ...

Acute describes a sharp slope of progression and regression (similar to the "shape" of an acute angle). This is the reason for the use of "acute" to describe an illness that has a sudden onset and rapid recovery. Acute gastroenteritis begins in a matter of minutes and lasts only 12-36 hours.

Acute things are pointed, sharp, discriminating, severe, critical. This is the reason for the use of "acute" to describe an illness that is very severe in nature or effect. Acute hemorrhage is severe because it is sudden and discriminatory in it's nature (that phrase only describes rapid blood loss). Acute abdominal pain is discriminating and sharp pain causing severe discomfort.

So those are my attempt at explaining the use in medical jargon.

1

"acute" has no connection to "quick".

Your reading of "definition 1" is completely wrong.

Acute essentially means "sharp" or "strong".

Note that in the OED description which reads "coming quickly to a crisis or conclusion" ...

... consider a very sharp blade, we're looking at it's cross section in close-up. You would describe the "hill" of the blade as ... "coming quickly to a point". But that does not mean "sharp" has anything to do with "quick". It's just that the word "quick" is being used in that description.

Let's say the OED description had read "of a disease, going from nothing to maximum in only a few days". You would not then say "how does acute mean few days".

Acute is just the latin word for sharp .. it's that simple.

  • 1
    OED, ODO, Cambridge and M-W all include quick, sudden, and urgent in their definitions of acute, so it seem a bit presumptuous to claim there is "no connection". – Ed Miller Jun 2 '15 at 15:22
  • They use those words, while, describing something. As explained in my 4th 5th and 6h paras above. Also as I was saying to Scott, state, give one usage of, acute in those senses. For me, "fast-acting" is not 'fast". A car is "fast". "Fast-acting" (like "acute") is a different concpet. You could say "intense" is "like" "fast" (Michael Schuemacher, Usain Bolt, are "intense" - it has rather a correct slang sound.) indeed intense actually means something like: "stimulii appearing at a very rapid rate". But it's just something that "involve" rapidness - "intense" and"acute" are not "quick". – Fattie Jun 2 '15 at 17:47

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.