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[kan-ee] /ˈkæn i/
adjective, cannier, canniest.
careful; cautious; prudent:
a canny reply.
astute; shrewd; knowing; sagacious:
a canny negotiator.
skilled; expert.
frugal; thrifty:
a canny housewife.
  1. safe to deal with, invest in, or work at (usually used with a negative).
  2. gentle; careful; steady.
  3. snug; cozy; comfortable.
  4. pleasing; attractive.
  5. Archaic. having supernatural or occult powers.
adverb, Also, cannily
in a canny manner.
Scot. carefully; cautiously.
Origin of canny
First recorded in 1630-40; can1 + -y1
Related forms
canniness, noun
overcanny, adjective Unabridged
Based on the Random House Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2017.
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Examples from the Web for cannily
Contemporary Examples
Historical Examples
  • Could he afford to play the safe game and wait until the building capital should be cannily in Mr. Magnus' bank vaults?

    Empire Builders Francis Lynde
  • The doctor was called, and cannily solved the problem with a buttered shoe-horn.

    Dear Enemy Jean Webster
  • He fell to speculating, cannily at first, but with success and increasing indulgence in liquor came recklessness.

    The Lash Olin L. Lyman
  • Ive forgotten most of it, Cletus said, cannily dodging the trap.

    Satan and the Comrades Ralph Bennitt
  • They were as much under the water as on top, but Stonor cannily held his breath, while Imbrie struggled insanely.

    The Woman from Outside Hulbert Footner
  • On one occasion only he cannily indemnified his narrative for this drawback.

  • And individuals know, with their formulas for conduct often cannily applied with reference to interest.

    Three Plays Luigi Pirandello
  • To one who knows that neighbourhood the picture is cannily vivid.

    Shandygaff Christopher Morley
British Dictionary definitions for cannily


adjective -nier, -niest
shrewd, esp in business; astute or wary; knowing
(Scot & Northeast English, dialect) good or nice: used as a general term of approval
(Scot) lucky or fortunate
(Scot & Northeast English, dialect) quite; rather: a canny long while
Derived Forms
cannily, adverb
canniness, noun
Word Origin
C16: from can1 (in the sense: to know how) + -y1
Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 2012 Digital Edition
© William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd. 1979, 1986 © HarperCollins
Publishers 1998, 2000, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009, 2012
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Word Origin and History for cannily



1630s, Scottish and northern English formation from can (v.1) in its sense of "know how to," + -y (2). "Knowing," hence, "careful." A doublet of cunning that flowed into distinct senses. Often used superciliously of Scots by their southern neighbors (and their American cousins).

The Canny Scot is so well known as scarcely to require description. He carries caution, cunning, and selfishness to excess. Deceitful when a purpose is to be accomplished, he is not habitually deceitful. One thing he never loses sight of--his own interest. But of his own interest he is not the most enlightened judge. ["The Natural History of Scotsmen," in "The Argosy," December 1865]
Related: Cannily; canniness.

Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper
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