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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 cunningness
Historical Examples
  • At any rate we had no other man to come near him in any cunningness.

    The Maid of Sker Richard Doddridge Blackmore
  • It caused about as much excitement as had the failure of the bank because of its cunningness.

    The Homesteader Oscar Micheaux
  • Field went away rather impressed by the cunningness of the dodge.

    The Slave of Silence Fred M. White
  • Masters may be more cunning than slaves, but cunningness is not an evidence of a high order of intellectual power.

    Communism and Christianism

    William Montgomery Brown
  • For seeing the cunningness of the new people, they partly feared and partly despised them.

  • Before the bishop spoke agin you could see his craziness and his cunningness both working in his face.

    Danny's Own Story Don Marquis
  • Among the wounded was the celebrated chief, Cappayoho, noted among all tribes for his great daring and cunningness in battle.

    Torrey's Narrative William Torrey
  • Revolving this in his mind, Ned saw the cunningness of the two men's movements, if they had actually escaped from Joliet.

British Dictionary definitions for cunningness


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 cunningness



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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