started out in the 18c as a shortened form of acute in the meaning ‘quick-witted, clever’; for a while it was often written with an apostrophe, and will be found that way in Dickens. This meaning has died out in BrE but is still a feature of AmE. In AmE, beginning in the 1830s, a new informal meaning emerged, ‘attractive, charming, pretty (often in a mannered or amusing way)’. It is now very common in AmE as a general term of approbation rather analogous to nice, and can refer to activities and practically anything else as well as people and things:

• Yes, Lisa runs a little gym in the West Palm. We all go there to work out. Isn't that cute? —P. Booth, 1986.

In BrE, this use is much more self-conscious, and is generally limited to babies and other small things with quaintly attractive characteristics.

Modern English usage. 2014.

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