adjective, can·ni·er, can·ni·est.

adverb Also can·ni·ly.

in a canny manner.
Scot. carefully; cautiously.

Origin of canny

First recorded in 1630–40; can1 + -y1
Related formscan·ni·ness, nouno·ver·can·ny, adjective Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2019

Examples from the Web for canniness

Historical Examples of canniness

  • Malcolm, with the canniness of his kind, at once told her he had had no luck.

    Labrador Days

    Wilfred Thomason Grenfell

  • A dog is singularly destitute in what is called in Scotland, canniness.


    W. Gordon Stables

  • Carson, with the canniness so characteristic of the American, was not to be so easily convinced.

    The Wolf Cub

    Patrick Casey

  • It was in the morning that the landlady showed her canniness.

    Our Journey to the Hebrides

    Joseph Pennell and Elizabeth Robins Pennell

  • He gave a remarkable proof of his canniness in the successful outcome of his bargaining with the trustees of the British Museum.

British Dictionary definitions for canniness


adjective -nier or -niest

shrewd, esp in business; astute or wary; knowing
Scot and Northeast English dialect good or nice: used as a general term of approval
Scot lucky or fortunate


Scot and Northeast English dialect quite; rathera canny long while
Derived Formscannily, adverbcanniness, noun

Word Origin for canny

C16: from can 1 (in the sense: to know how) + -y 1
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

Word Origin and History for canniness



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