Definitions

from The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, 4th Edition

  • adj. Marked by or given to artful subtlety and deceptiveness.
  • adj. Executed with or exhibiting ingenuity.
  • adj. Delicately pleasing; pretty or cute: a cunning pet.
  • n. Skill in deception; guile.
  • n. Skill or adeptness in execution or performance; dexterity.

from Wiktionary, Creative Commons Attribution/Share-Alike License

  • adj. Sly; crafty; clever in surreptitious behaviour.
  • adj. Skillful, artful.
  • adj. Cute, appealing.
  • n. Knowledge; learning; special knowledge (sometimes implying occult or magical knowledge).
  • n. Practical knowledge or experience; aptitude in performance; skill, proficiency; dexterity.
  • n. Practical skill employed in a secret or crafty manner; craft; artifice; skillful deceit.
  • n. The disposition to employ one's skill in an artful manner; craftiness; guile; artifice; skill of being cunning, sly, conniving, or deceitful.
  • n. The natural wit or instincts of an animal.

from the GNU version of the Collaborative International Dictionary of English

  • adj. Knowing; skillful; dexterous.
  • adj. Wrought with, or exhibiting, skill or ingenuity; ingenious; curious.
  • adj. Crafty; sly; artful; designing; deceitful.
  • adj. Pretty or pleasing.
  • n. Knowledge; art; skill; dexterity.
  • n. The faculty or act of using stratagem to accomplish a purpose; fraudulent skill or dexterity; deceit; craft.

from The Century Dictionary and Cyclopedia

  • n. Knowledge; learning; special knowledge: sometimes implying occult or magical knowledge.
  • n. Practical knowledge or experience; skill; dexterity.
  • n. Practical skill employed in a secret or crafty manner; craft; artifice; skilful deceit.
  • n. Disposition to employ one's skill in an artful manner; craftiness; guile; artifice.
  • n. The natural wit or instincts of an animal: as, the cunning of the fox or hare.
  • Knowing; having knowledge; learned; having or concerned with special or strange knowledge, and hence sometimes with an implication of magical or supernatural knowledge. See cunning-man, cunning-woman.
  • Having knowledge acquired by experience or practice; having technical knowledge and manual skill; skilful; dexterous.
  • Exhibiting or wrought with ingenuity; skilful; curious; ingenious.
  • Characterized by or exercising crafty ingenuity; artfully subtle or shrewd; knowing in guile; guileful; tricky.
  • Marked by crafty ingenuity; showing shrewdness or guile; expressive of subtlety: as, a cunning deception; cunning looks.
  • Curiously or quaintly attractive; subtly interesting; piquant: commonly used of something small or young: as, the cunning ways of a child or a pet animal.
  • Synonyms Cunning, Artful, Sly, Subtle, Shrewd, Tricky, Adroit, Wily, Crafty, Intriguing, sharp, foxy. All these words suggest something underhand or deceptive. Cunning, literally knowing, and especially knowing how, now implies a disposition to compass one's ends by concealment; hence we speak of a fox-like cunning. Artful indicates greater ingenuity and ability, the latter, however, being of a low kind. Sly is the same as cunning, except that it is more vulgar and implies less ability. (“A col-fox, ful of sleigh iniquité.” Chaucer, Nun's Priest's Tale, l. 395.) (“Envy works in a sly, imperceptible manner.” Watts.) Subtle implies concealment, like cunning, but also a marked ability and the power to work out one's plans without being suspected; hence, while cunning is applicable to brutes, subtle is too high a word for that, except by figurative use. The rabbit is cunning enough to hide from the dog; Mephistopheles is subtle. (For the favorable meanings of subtle, see astute. For the good senses of shrewd, see acute.) In its unfavorable aspects shrewd implies a penetration and judgment that are somewhat narrow and worldly-wise, too much so to deserve the name of sagacity or wisdom. (See astute.) Tricky is especially a word of action; it expresses the character and conduct of one who gets the confidence of others only to abuse it by acts of selfishness, especially cheating. Adroit, in a bad sense, expresses a ready and skilful use of trickery, or facility in performing and escaping detection of reprehensihle acts. (See adroit.) Wily is appropriate where a person is viewed as an opponent in real or figurative warfare, against whom wiles or stratagems are employed: a wily adversary is one who is full of such devices; a wily politician is one who is notably given to advancing party interests by leading the opposite side to commit blunders, etc. A crafty man has less ability than a subtle man, and works more by deception or knavery than the shrewd man; he is more active than the cunning man, and more steadily active than the sly man; he is on the moral level of the trickish man. Intriguing is applied where the plots are secret arrangements made with others, perhaps against a third party, and especially of a complicated character.
  • n. A variant of cony.
  • n. The river-lamprey.

from WordNet 3.0 Copyright 2006 by Princeton University. All rights reserved.

  • n. crafty artfulness (especially in deception)
  • n. shrewdness as demonstrated by being skilled in deception
  • adj. attractive especially by means of smallness or prettiness or quaintness
  • adj. marked by skill in deception
  • adj. showing inventiveness and skill

Etymologies

Middle English, present participle of connen, to know, from Old English cunnan.
(American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition)
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 dialectal könnend ("cunning"), Icelandic kunnandi ("cunning"). More at con, can. (Wiktionary)
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. (Wiktionary)

Examples

  • The heartless villain replied, with a wink: "My friends, _There is cunning in cunning_."

    The Talking Beasts

  • "Oh, the cunning, _cunning_ thing!" cried Gladys, her eyes flashing radiantly.

    Jewel's Story Book

  • "Well, then, I will be as plain as ever I can be, only premising that what you call the cunning of the serpent --"

    The Seaboard Parish Volume 1

  • Ambush: Protesters attacked the car carrying Prince Charles and the Duchess of Cornwall Scotland Yard drew up what it called a "cunning plan" to deal with one of the student protests, it was revealed today.

    Evening Standard - Home

  • One red-skin has more cunning in his natur 'than a whole regiment from the other side of the water; that is, what I call cunning of the woods.

    Pathfinder; or, the inland sea

  • Wave of death: Japan earthquake triggers 30ft high devastating tsunami One of the biggest earthquakes ever recorded struck off the coast of Japan killing hundreds Superquake created a huge movement in seabed that's like dropping a brick into a pond The origins of today's earthquake and tsunami lie in the heart of a region known as the Pacific Ring of Fire Met had 'cunning plan' for dealing with student protests Scotland Yard drew up what it called a 'cunning plan' to deal with one of the student protests, it was revealed Dangerous dogs 'trained to attack children' in London Britain's top vet has warned that there are more pit bulls in the capital than when the animals were banned under the 1991 Dangerous Dogs...

    Evening Standard - Home

  • Because he viewed human nature as venal, grasping, and thoroughly self-serving, he suggested that ruthless cunning is appropriate to the conduct of government.

    Five People Born on May 3rd | myFiveBest

  • My cunning is superior to the cunning of the Sunlanders, but ye take away its edge, and rob me of its strength, and make it worse than no cunning at all!

    THE SUNLANDERS

  • Well I doubt his low reptilian cunning is inadequate to that task but lets pretend.

    How Boring Am I ?

  • I certainly hope so as I love nothing better than cuddly beasts decked out in cunning human outfits.

    Archive 2008-11-01

Comments

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  • When you have seen your own cunning,
    follow it back to its origin.
    What is below comes from above.
    Come on, turn your eyes to the heights.

    Rumi

    March 1, 2009