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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. 2018.
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Examples from the Web for canny
Contemporary Examples
Historical Examples
  • He said it was "Kahore pai;" or, as a Scotsman would put it, "no canny."

    Brighter Britain! (Volume 1 of 2) William Delisle Hay
  • So reasoned the canny Scot, but he held his tongue to his Lilias.

    Two Penniless Princesses Charlotte M. Yonge
  • And old Angus wagged his head and said, "canny lass, the widdy!"

    They of the High Trails

    Hamlin Garland
  • Turning, I found the canny swain had followed me on an investigating tour.

    Lords of the North A. C. Laut
  • It might be a good thing, said the canny Scot, to back him up and reap the benefit.

    Under Fire Charles King
British Dictionary definitions for canny


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 canny

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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