See more synonyms for cunning on
  1. skill employed in a shrewd or sly manner, as in deceiving; craftiness; guile.
  2. adeptness in performance; dexterity: The weaver's hand lost its cunning.
  1. showing or made with ingenuity.
  2. artfully subtle or shrewd; crafty; sly.
  3. Informal. charmingly cute or appealing: a cunning little baby.
  4. Archaic. skillful; expert.
  1. 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 formscun·ning·ly, adverbcun·ning·ness, nouno·ver·cun·ning, adjectiveo·ver·cun·ning·ly, adverbo·ver·cun·ning·ness, nounqua·si-cun·ning, adjectivequa·si-cun·ning·ly, adverb

Synonyms for cunning

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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 Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2018

Examples from the Web for cunningness

Historical Examples of cunningness

  • 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.

  • 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.

British Dictionary definitions for cunningness


  1. crafty and shrewd, esp in deception; slycunning as a fox
  2. made with or showing skill or cleverness; ingenious
  1. craftiness, esp in deceiving; slyness
  2. cleverness, skill, or ingenuity
Derived Formscunningly, adverbcunningness, noun

Word Origin for cunning

Old English cunnende; related to cunnan to know (see can 1), 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

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