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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).


  • (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 Feb, Joseph Conrad, “The Heart of Darkness”, in Blackwood's Edinburgh Magazine, page 200:
      An eerie feeling came over me. She seemed uncanny and fateful.
  2. (UK dialectal) Careless.




  1. (psychology, psychoanalysis, Freud) Something that is simultaneously familiar and strange, typically leading to feelings of discomfort; translation of Freud's usage of the German "unheimlich" (literally "unsecret").
    • 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)
    • 2003, Nicholas Royle, The Uncanny, page 1 [1]:
      The uncanny involves feelings of uncertainty, in particular regarding the reality of who one is and what is being experienced.
    • 2011, Anneleen Masschelein, The Unconcept: The Freudian Uncanny in Late-Twentieth-Century Theory, page 2 [2]:
      Because the uncanny affects and haunts everything, it is in constant transformation and cannot be pinned down.
    • 2001, Diane Jonte-Pace, Speaking the Unspeakable, page 81 [3]:
      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").
    • 1982, Samuel Weber, The Legend of Freud, page 20 [4]:
      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.
    • 2005, Barbara Creed, Phallic Panic, page vii [5]:
      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.
    • 1994, Sonu Shamdasani and Michael Münchow, Speculations after Freud, page 186 [6]:
      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.

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]