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From un- +‎ canny; thus “beyond one's ken,” or outside one's familiar knowledge or perceptions.[1] Compare Middle English unkanne (unknown). In the noun sense a translation of Sigmund Freud's usage of German unheimlich (Das Unheimliche, 1919).


  • (US) IPA(key): /ʌnˈkæni/
  • (file)
  • Rhymes: -æni


uncanny (comparative uncannier, superlative uncanniest)

  1. Strange, and mysteriously unsettling (as if supernatural); weird.
    He bore an uncanny resemblance to the dead sailor.
    • 1899 February, Joseph Conrad, “The Heart of Darkness”, in Blackwood’s Edinburgh Magazine, volume CLXV, number M, New York, N.Y.: The Leonard Scott Publishing Company, [], →OCLC, part I, page 200:
      An eerie feeling came over me. She seemed uncanny and fateful.
    • 1945 January and February, A Former Pupil, “Some memories of Crewe Works—III”, in Railway Magazine, page 14:
      These men had some uncanny knack of knowing when the steel was right, and like many such things, it just could not be put into a textbook on the subject.
    • 2022 March 18, Kyle Chayka, “Have iPhone Cameras Become Too Smart?”, in The New Yorker[1]:
      The new iPhone promises “next level” photography with push-button ease. But the results look odd and uncanny.
  2. (UK dialectal) Careless.

Usage notes[edit]

In common modern usage, canny and uncanny are no longer antonyms, although they are not synonyms.[2]

Derived terms[edit]

Related terms[edit]




  1. (psychology, psychoanalysis, Freud) Something that is simultaneously familiar and strange, typically leading to feelings of discomfort.
    • 1982, Samuel Weber, The Legend of Freud, page 20:
      This uncontrollable possibility—the possibility of a certain loss of control—can, perhaps, explain why the uncanny remains a marginal notion even within psychoanalysis itself.
    • 1994, Sonu Shamdasani, Michael Münchow, Speculations after Freud, page 186:
      As is well known, Freud introduced the concept of the uncanny into psychoanalysis in 1919 and used The Sandman as a prime illustration for his definition.
    • 2001, Diane Jonte-Pace, Speaking the Unspeakable, page 81:
      In the preceding chapter, we saw that Freud linked the maternal body, death, and the afterlife with the uncanny in his famous essay "The Uncanny" ("Das Unheimliche").
    • 2003, Nicholas Royle, The Uncanny, page 1:
      The uncanny involves feelings of uncertainty, in particular regarding the reality of who one is and what is being experienced.
    • 2005, Barbara Creed, Phallic Panic, page vii:
      Freud argued that the uncanny was particularly associated with feelings of horror aroused by the figure of the paternal castrator, neglecting the tropes of woman and animal as a source of the uncanny.
    • 2011, Espen Dahl, Hans-Gunter Heimbrock, In Between: The Holy Beyond Modern Dichotomies, page 99:
      [The uncanny is] something that was long familiar to the psyche and was estranged from it only through being repressed. The link with repression now illuminates Schelling′s definition of the uncanny as ‘something that should have remained hidden and has come into the open.’ (Freud: 2003, 147 f)
    • 2011, Anneleen Masschelein, The Unconcept: The Freudian Uncanny in Late-Twentieth-Century Theory, page 2:
      Because the uncanny affects and haunts everything, it is in constant transformation and cannot be pinned down.