Definitions

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

  • adj. Characterized by nobility; majestic.
  • adj. Of high spiritual, moral, or intellectual worth.
  • adj. Not to be excelled; supreme.
  • adj. Inspiring awe; impressive.
  • adj. Archaic Raised aloft; set high.
  • adj. Obsolete Of lofty appearance or bearing; haughty: "not terrible,/That I should fear . . . /But solemn and sublime” ( John Milton).
  • n. Something sublime.
  • n. An ultimate example.
  • transitive v. To render sublime.
  • transitive v. Chemistry To cause to sublimate.
  • intransitive v. Chemistry To sublimate.

from Wiktionary, Creative Commons Attribution/Share-Alike License

  • adj. Noble and majestic.
  • adj. Impressive and awe-inspiring.
  • n. something sublime
  • v. To sublimate.

from the GNU version of the Collaborative International Dictionary of English

  • adj. Lifted up; high in place; exalted aloft; uplifted; lofty.
  • adj. Distinguished by lofty or noble traits; eminent; -- said of persons.
  • adj. Awakening or expressing the emotion of awe, adoration, veneration, heroic resolve, etc.; dignified; grand; solemn; stately; -- said of an impressive object in nature, of an action, of a discourse, of a work of art, of a spectacle, etc..
  • adj. Elevated by joy; elate.
  • adj. Lofty of mien; haughty; proud.
  • n. A grand or lofty style in speaking or writing; a style that expresses lofty conceptions.
  • n. That which is grand in nature or art, as distinguished from the merely beautiful.
  • intransitive v. To pass off in vapor, with immediate condensation; specifically, to evaporate or volatilize from the solid state without apparent melting; -- said of those substances, like arsenic, benzoic acid, etc., which do not exhibit a liquid form on heating, except under increased pressure.
  • transitive v. To raise on high.
  • transitive v. To subject to the process of sublimation; to heat, volatilize, and condense in crystals or powder; to distill off, and condense in solid form; hence, also, to purify.
  • transitive v. To exalt; to heighten; to improve; to purify.
  • transitive v. To dignify; to ennoble.

from The Century Dictionary and Cyclopedia

  • High in place; uplifted; elevated; exalted; lofty.
  • High in excellence; elevated by nature; exalted above men in general by lofty or noble traits; eminent: said of persons.
  • Striking the mind with a sense of grandeur or power, physical or moral; calculated to awaken awe, veneration, exalted or heroic feeling, and the like; lofty; grand; noble: noting a natural object or scenery, an action or conduct, a discourse, a work of man's hands, a spectacle, etc.: as, sublime scenery; sublime heroism.
  • Of lofty mien; elevated in manner, expression, or appearance.
  • In anatomy, superficial; not deep-seated: opposed to profound: as, the sublime flexor of the fingers (the flexor sublimis, a muscle).
  • Synonyms and Grand, Lofty, Sublime, majestic, stately. Grand founds its meanings on the idea of great size, lofty and sublime on that of height. Natural objects may be sublime without physical height, if vastness and great impressiveness are present. In the moral field the sublime is that which is so high above ordinary human achievements as to give the impression of astonishment blended with awe, as the leap of Curtius into the chasm, or the death of the martyr Stephen. In moral things the grand suggests both vastness and elevation. Lofty may imply pride, but in this connection it notes only a lower degree of the sublime, sublime being the strongest word in the language for ideas of its class.
  • n. That which is sublime: commonly with the definite article.
  • n. The grand, impressive, and awe-inspiring in the works of nature or art, as distinguished from the beautiful: occasionally with the indefinite article, to express a particular character of sublimity.
  • n. That which has been elevated and sublimated to its extreme limit; a noble and exalted ideal.
  • To raise on high.
  • To sublimate.
  • To elevate; refine; purify; etherealize.
  • To be affected by sublimation; be brought or changed into a state of vapor by heat, and then condensed by cold, as camphor or sulphur.
  • To become exalted as by sublimation.

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

  • adj. inspiring awe
  • adj. worthy of adoration or reverence
  • adj. lifted up or set high
  • v. vaporize and then condense right back again
  • adj. of high moral or intellectual value; elevated in nature or style
  • v. change or cause to change directly from a solid into a vapor without first melting

Etymologies

French, from Old French, sublimated, from Latin sublīmis, uplifted.
(American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition)
From Middle French sublime, from Latin sublīmis ("high"), from sub- ("up to", "upwards") + uncertain, often identified with Latin līmis, ablative singular of līmus ("oblique") or līmen ("threshold", "entrance", "lintel") (Wiktionary)

Examples

  • Besides this distinction, they have what they call the sublime, that is, a style proper for poetry, and which is the exact scripture style.

    Letters of the Right Honourable Lady M--y W--y M--e

  • DVD FOCUS 'Diary of a Country Priest' 1951 The word 'sublime' has often been used to describe this Robert Bresson masterpiece, a slow-paced film of great purity that portrays the pain and occasional joy of the religious life.

    'Of Gods': Divine Beauty, Terror, Faith

  • Hardly surpising, since the sublime is all about import.

    On the Sublime

  • In such asyndeta and repetitions, the sublime is always on the attack.

    On the Sublime

  • The sublime is a concept that was first imagined in the first century AD by Longinus (but not really rediscovered until the sixteenth century), for whom the sublime was about greatness, loftiness, and elevation, inspiring awe and veneration.

    Archive 2008-01-01

  • "Not by the exceptional," says Maeterlinck, "shall the last word ever be spoken; and, indeed, what we call the sublime should be only a clearer, profounder insight into all that is perfectly normal."

    The Life Radiant

  • QUOTATION: That passage is what I call the sublime dashed to pieces by cutting too close with the fiery four-in-hand round the corner of nonsense.

    Quotations

  • Not by the exceptional shall the last word ever be spoken; and indeed what we call the sublime should be only a clearer, profounder insight into all that is perfectly normal.

    Wisdom and Destiny

  • That passage is what I call the sublime dashed to pieces by cutting too close with the fiery four-in-hand round the corner of nonsense.

    Familiar Quotations A Collection of Passages, Phrases, and Proverbs Traced to Their Sources in Ancient and Modern Literature

  • IDEAS: You use the word "sublime" to describe lifelike human robots.

    Boston.com Top Stories

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Comments

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  • Thanks, Rolig. If it weren't for Wordnik, I doubt I'd have ever met the Century Dictionary--and so I'm grateful.

    May 20, 2012

  • Outstanding! Thank you, Ruzuzu, for this.

    *feeling a little sad, and a little curmudgeonly about the fact that modern dictionaries don't make references like "the leap of Curtius into the chasm, or the death of the martyr Stephen". Today it's all about quantifiable information with little thought to knowledge and none to wisdom.*

    May 19, 2012

  • Sublime Synonyms
    A poem by the Century Dictionary and Cyclopedia

    Grand founds its meanings on the idea of great size,
    lofty and sublime on that of height.
    Natural objects may be sublime without physical height,
    if vastness and great impressiveness are present.
    In the moral field the sublime is that which is so high above
    ordinary human achievements as to give the
    impression of astonishment blended with awe,
    as the leap of Curtius into the chasm,
    or the death of the martyr Stephen.
    In moral things the grand suggests both vastness
    and elevation. Lofty may imply pride, but in this connection
    it notes only a lower degree of the sublime,
    sublime being the strongest word in the
    language for ideas of its class.

    May 18, 2012

  • Many people, including myself, have attributed a connotation of "relaxation," "smoothness," or "gentleness" to the word "sublime." This seems to be a misapprehension, yet 5 out of 5 people I randomly questioned seem to have this impression. I wonder why?

    August 11, 2009

  • There's an awfully good book by a Greek fellow named Longinus (actually, scholars are unsure whether his name was Longinus, Dionysus, or Dionysus Longinus, but they usually go with the first) called On the Sublime, sometimes translated badly as On Great Writing. Very good thoughts about what sets the sublime apart from the mere extremely beautiful and interesting.

    March 20, 2009

  • I just looked up the etymology of this, after years of idly wondering (away from a computer or dictionary) about the connection between the adjective and the physical process. It turns out that the word is from the Latin for "uplifted" or "elevated". Matter being sublimated goes directly from a solid to a gas, causing it to go from the ground to the air. A sublime performance could thus be a performance which uplifts the audience, or simply a performance at an elevated level. Compare this with the honorific "High-ness".

    November 2, 2008

  • Oh yes, I needed to read this just now. I really did. Now I can proofread with a smile on my face!

    August 3, 2008

  • HA HA HA!! Good one! Makes me like this word better, somehow...

    October 23, 2007

  • not, as one might incline, a verdant citrus fruit of substandard quality

    October 23, 2007