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See also: Cunning


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  • Rhymes: -ʌnɪŋ
  • IPA(key): /ˈkʌnɪŋ/

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.


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 exhibiting, skill or ingenuity; ingenious.
    cunning work
    • Spenser
      Over them Arachne high did lift / Her cunning web.
  4. (US, colloquial, dated) Cute, appealing.
    a cunning little boy
    (Can we find and add a quotation of Bartlett to this entry?)
The translations below need to be checked and inserted above into the appropriate translation tables, removing any numbers. Numbers do not necessarily match those in definitions. See instructions at Wiktionary:Entry layout#Translations.

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.


cunning (countable and uncountable, plural cunnings)

  1. 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.
  2. Practical skill employed in a secret or crafty manner; craft; artifice; skillful deceit.
  3. The disposition to employ one's skill in an artful manner; craftiness; guile; artifice; skill of being cunning, sly, conniving, or deceitful.
  4. The natural wit or instincts of an animal.
    the cunning of the fox or hare
  5. (obsolete) Knowledge; learning; special knowledge (sometimes implying occult or magical knowledge).