cunning

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English[edit]

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Pronunciation[edit]

Etymology 1[edit]

From Middle English cunning, kunning, konnyng, alteration of earlier Middle English cunninde, kunnende, cunnand, from Old English cunnende, present participle of cunnan ‎(to know how to, be able to), equivalent to con +‎ -ing. Cognate with Scots cunnand ‎(cunning), German könnend ‎(able to do), Icelandic kunnandi ‎(cunning). More at con, can.

Adjective[edit]

cunning ‎(comparative more cunning, superlative most cunning)

  1. Sly; crafty; clever in surreptitious behaviour.
    • South
      They are resolved to be cunning; let others run the hazard of being sincere.
  2. (obsolete) Skillful, artful.
    • Bible, Genesis xxv. 27
      Esau was a cunning hunter.
    • Bible, Exodus xxxviii. 23
      a cunning workman
    • Shakespeare
      Tis beauty truly blent, whose red and white / Nature's own sweet and cunning hand laid on.
  3. (obsolete) Wrought with, or exibiting, skill or ingenuity; ingenious.
    cunning work
    • Spenser
      Over them Arachne high did lift / Her cunning web.
  4. (US, colloquial, rare) Cute, appealing.
    a cunning little boy
    (Can we find and add a quotation of Bartlett to this entry?)
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Etymology 2[edit]

From Middle English cunning, kunnyng, partially from Old English *cunning ‎(verbal noun), from cunnan ‎(to know how to, be able to); partially from Old English cunnung ‎(knowledge, trial, probation, experience, contact, carnal knowledge), from cunnian ‎(to search into, try, test, seek for, explore, investigate, experience, have experience of, to make trial of, know), equivalent to con +‎ -ing.

Noun[edit]

cunning ‎(plural cunnings)

  1. (obsolete) Knowledge; learning; special knowledge (sometimes implying occult or magical knowledge).
  2. Practical knowledge or experience; aptitude in performance; skill, proficiency; dexterity.
    • 2005, Plato, Sophist. Translation by Lesley Brown. 236d.
      indeed at this very moment he's slipped away with the utmost cunning into a form that's most perplexing to investigate.
  3. Practical skill employed in a secret or crafty manner; craft; artifice; skillful deceit.
  4. The disposition to employ one's skill in an artful manner; craftiness; guile; artifice; skill of being cunning, sly, conniving, or deceitful.
  5. The natural wit or instincts of an animal.
    the cunning of the fox or hare
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