- judicious in one’s conduct or speech, especially with regard to respecting privacy or maintaining silence about something of a delicate nature; prudent; circumspect.
- showing prudence and circumspection; decorous: a discreet silence.
- modestly unobtrusive; unostentatious: a discreet, finely wrought gold necklace.
- careful to avoid social embarrassment or distress, esp by keeping confidences secret; tactful
mid-14c., “morally discerning, prudent, circumspect,” from Old French discret “discreet, sensible, intelligent, wise,” from Latin discretus “separated, distinct,” in Medieval Latin “discerning, careful,” past participle of discernere “distinguish” (see discern). Meaning “separate, distinct” in English is late 14c.
Spellings discrete and nativized discreet co-existed until after c.1600, when discreet became the common word for “careful, prudent,” and discrete was maintained in philosophy, medicine, music and other disciplines that remembered Latin and made effort to obey it. Related: Discreetly.