- skill employed in a shrewd or sly manner, as in deceiving; craftiness; guile.
- adeptness in performance; dexterity: The weaver's hand lost its cunning.
- showing or made with ingenuity.
- artfully subtle or shrewd; crafty; sly.
- Informal. charmingly cute or appealing: a cunning little baby.
- Archaic. skillful; expert.
- Obsolete. present participle of can1.
Origin of cunning
SynonymsSee more synonyms on Thesaurus.com
- to be able to; have the ability, power, or skill to: She can solve the problem easily, I'm sure.
- to know how to: He can play chess, although he's not particularly good at it.
- to have the power or means to: A dictator can impose his will on the people.
- to have the right or qualifications to: He can change whatever he wishes in the script.
- may; have permission to: Can I speak to you for a moment?
- to have the possibility: A coin can land on either side.
- Obsolete. to know.
Origin of can1
Can but and cannot but are formal and now somewhat old-fashioned expressions suggesting that there is no possible alternative to doing something. Can but is equivalent to can only : We can but do our best. Cannot but is the equivalent of cannot help but : We cannot but protest against these injustices. See also cannot, help.
- a sealed container for food, beverages, etc., as of aluminum, sheet iron coated with tin, or other metal: a can of soup.
- a receptacle for garbage, ashes, etc.: a trash can.
- a bucket, pail, or other container for holding or carrying liquids: water can.
- a drinking cup; tankard.
- a metal or plastic container for holding film on cores or reels.
- Slang: Usually Vulgar. toilet; bathroom.
- Slang. jail: He's been in the can for a week.
- Slang: Sometimes Vulgar. buttocks.
- cans, Slang. a set of headphones designed to cover the ears. Compare earbuds.
- Military Slang.
- a depth charge.
- a destroyer.
- to preserve by sealing in a can, jar, etc.
- Slang. to dismiss; fire.
- Slang. to throw (something) away.
- Slang. to put a stop to: Can that noise!
- to record, as on film or tape.
- carry the can, British and Canadian Slang. to take the responsibility.
- in the can, recorded on film; completed: The movie is in the can and ready for release.
Origin of can2
Examples from the Web for cunning
“Ben, who was as cunning and seductive as Diane, really wooed Diane,” says an insider.Katie Couric on Diane Sawyer: 'I Wonder Who She Blew This Time'
August 27, 2014
Cersei is cunning, focused, and power-hungry—not unlike her father and brothers.The Abused Wives of Westeros: A Song of Feminism in ‘Game of Thrones’
April 30, 2014
But Daniel Day-Lewis is splendid as Lincoln, and Sally Field almost as good as the cunning, half-mad Mary.Making Lincoln Sexy: Jerome Charyn’s Fictional President
March 6, 2014
Children are not idealized: they are resourceful but prickly, cunning but confused.Hayao Miyazaki’s ‘The Wind Rises’: An Anime Icon Bows Out
November 15, 2013
Perhaps this isn't a cunning strategy, but the failure to form one.Netanyahu, Third-Term Incompetent
August 26, 2013
I have watched them cover their tracks with a cunning more than vulpine.'Tis Sixty Years Since
Charles Francis Adams
Tranter, cunning and wary from years of fighting, knew that his chance had come.The White Company
Arthur Conan Doyle
The thing was outrageous to him, and he set himself to match her cunning.Within the Law
But she is cunning in love's ways and dulls Shakespeare's resentment with "I don't hate you."The Man Shakespeare
His next move proved that his cunning was of an exceptional order.Thoroughbreds
W. A. Fraser
- crafty and shrewd, esp in deception; slycunning as a fox
- made with or showing skill or cleverness; ingenious
- craftiness, esp in deceiving; slyness
- cleverness, skill, or ingenuity
- used as an auxiliary to indicate ability, skill, or fitness to perform a taskI can run a mile in under four minutes
- used as an auxiliary to indicate permission or the right to somethingcan I have a drink?
- used as an auxiliary to indicate knowledge of how to do somethinghe can speak three languages fluently
- used as an auxiliary to indicate the possibility, opportunity, or likelihoodmy trainer says I can win the race if I really work hard
- a container, esp for liquids, usually of thin sheet metala petrol can; beer can
- another name (esp US) for tin (def. 2)
- Also called: canful the contents of a can or the amount a can will hold
- a slang word for prison
- US and Canadian a slang word for toilet or buttocksSee toilet
- US navy a slang word for destroyer
- navy slang a depth charge
- a shallow cylindrical metal container of varying size used for storing and handling film
- can of worms informal a complicated problem
- carry the can See carry (def. 37)
- in the can
- (of a film, piece of music, etc) having been recorded, processed, edited, etc
- informalarranged or agreedthe contract is almost in the can
- to put (food, etc) into a can or cans; preserve in a can
- (tr) US slang to dismiss from a job
- (tr) US informal to stop (doing something annoying or making an annoying noise) (esp in the phrase can it!)
- (tr) informal to reject or discard
Word Origin and History for cunning
early 14c., "learned, skillful," present participle of cunnen "to know" (see can (v.1)). Sense of "skillfully deceitful" is probably late 14c. As a noun from c.1300. Related: Cunningly.
Old English 1st & 3rd person singular present indicative of cunnan "know, have power to, be able," (also "to have carnal knowledge"), from Proto-Germanic *kunnan "to be mentally able, to have learned" (cf. Old Norse kenna "to know, make known," Old Frisian kanna "to recognize, admit," German kennen "to know," Gothic kannjan "to make known"), from PIE root *gno- (see know).
Absorbing the third sense of "to know," that of "to know how to do something" (in addition to "to know as a fact" and "to be acquainted with" something or someone). An Old English preterite-present verb, its original past participle, couth, survived only in its negation (see uncouth), but cf. could. The present participle has spun off as cunning.
Old English canne "a cup, container," from Proto-Germanic *kanna (cf. Old Saxon, Old Norse, Swedish kanna, Middle Dutch kanne, Dutch kan, Old High German channa, German Kanne). Probably an early borrowing from Late Latin canna "container, vessel," from Latin canna "reed," also "reed pipe, small boat;" but the sense evolution is difficult.
Modern "air-tight vessel of tinned iron" is from 1867 (can-opener is from 1877). Slang meaning "toilet" is c.1900, said to be a shortening of piss-can. Meaning "buttocks" is from c.1910.
Idioms and Phrases with cunning
In addition to the idioms beginning with can
- as best one can
- before you can say Jack Robinson
- bite off more than one can chew
- carry the can
- catch as catch can
- game that two can play
- get the ax (can)
- in the can
- more than one can shake a stick at
- no can do
- you can bet your ass
- you can lead a horse to water
- you can say that again
- you never can tell
Also see undercan't.