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[kuhn-ing] /ˈkʌn ɪŋ/
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
1275-1325; (noun) Middle English; Old English cunnung, equivalent to cunn(an) to know (see can1) + -ung -ing1; (adj., v.) Middle English, present participle of cunnan to know (see can1, -ing2)
Related forms
cunningly, adverb
cunningness, noun
overcunning, adjective
overcunningly, adverb
overcunningness, noun
quasi-cunning, adjective
quasi-cunningly, adverb
1. shrewdness, artfulness, wiliness, trickery, finesse, intrigue, slyness, deception. 2. adroitness. 3. ingenious, skillful. 4. artful, wily, tricky, foxy.
Synonym Study
1. Cunning, artifice, craft imply an inclination toward deceit, slyness, and trickery. Cunning implies a shrewd, often instinctive skill in concealing or disguising the real purposes of one's actions: not intelligence but a low kind of cunning. An artifice is a clever, unscrupulous ruse, used to mislead others: a successful artifice to conceal one's motives. Craft suggests underhand methods and the use of deceptive devices and tricks to attain one's ends: craft and deceitfulness in every act. Unabridged
Based on the Random House Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2018.
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Examples from the Web for cunningly
Contemporary Examples
Historical Examples
  • But so cunningly contrived a mizmaze was never seen in the world, before nor since.

    Tanglewood Tales Nathaniel Hawthorne
  • I must tell you, to keep your writings concealed so cunningly.

    Clarissa, Volume 2 (of 9) Samuel Richardson
  • She was drawing at a table, cunningly placed at right angles to the window.

  • A dream of a dress that would be, with all the shades of Madame Abel cunningly blended.

  • So have we cunningly hid the tragedy of limitation and inner death we cannot avert.

    Essays, Second Series Ralph Waldo Emerson
  • cunningly did he ply his sword before them, but ineffectually.

    The Tavern Knight Rafael Sabatini
  • No cunningly painted canvas is so retentive as the active brain.

    Aztec Land Maturin M. Ballou
  • D'ye mark that beast they've slid into the midst So cunningly?

    Browning's England Helen Archibald Clarke
  • "She did not play her cards here so cunningly, that's plain," said Ladarelle, with a sneer.

    Luttrell Of Arran Charles James Lever
British Dictionary definitions for cunningly


crafty and shrewd, esp in deception; sly: cunning as a fox
made with or showing skill or cleverness; ingenious
craftiness, esp in deceiving; slyness
cleverness, skill, or ingenuity
Derived Forms
cunningly, adverb
cunningness, noun
Word Origin
Old English cunnende; related to cunnan to know (see can1), cunnian to test, experience, Old Norse kunna to know
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 cunningly



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.

Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper
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