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adjective cun·ning \ˈkə-niŋ\

Simple Definition of cunning

  • : getting what is wanted in a clever and often deceptive way

Full Definition of cunning

  1. 1 :  dexterous or crafty in the use of special resources (as skill or knowledge) or in attaining an end <a cunning plotter>

  2. 2 :  displaying keen insight <a cunning observation>

  3. 3 :  characterized by wiliness and trickery <cunning schemes>

  4. 4 :  prettily appealing :  cute <a cunning little kitten>

cun·ning·ly play \-niŋ-lē\ adverb
cun·ning·ness noun

Examples of cunning

  1. … this cat has made his way into the Fitness Center for cunning reasons of his own and reveals himself only to certain privileged individuals. —Joyce Carol Oates, Harper's, June 2008

  2. Throughout his time hunting the vampire, Manolito had been wounded and poisoned on many occasions, but still he'd survived because he'd always used his brain. He was cunning and shrewd and very intelligent. —Christine Feehan, Dark Possession, 2007

  3. I have recounted the advice I received from an old-timer about how to keep raccoons out of garbage cans—advice that eventually included the purchase of a combination lock. (“A raccoon's cunning, but he's got no head for figures.”) —Calvin Trillin, New Yorker, 11 Oct. 1993

  4. So the Leader went into his den and looked at his children—two very cunning little cubs, lying on the floor. —Hugh Lofting, The Story of Doctor Dolittle, 1920

  5. A cunning politician is often found skulking under the clerical robe, with an outside all religion, and an inside all political rancour. —Washington Irving, A History of New York, 1809, in History, Tales and Sketches, (1977) 1983

  6. She was cunning enough to fool me.

  7. <a cunning, underhanded plan to win the election by preying on people's fears and prejudices>

Origin of cunning

Middle English, from present participle of can know

First Known Use: 14th century

Synonym Discussion of cunning

clever, adroit, cunning, ingenious mean having or showing practical wit or skill in contriving. clever stresses physical or mental quickness, deftness, or great aptitude <a person clever with horses>. adroit often implies a skillful use of expedients to achieve one's purpose in spite of difficulties <an adroit negotiator>. cunning implies great skill in constructing or creating <a filmmaker cunning in his use of special effects>. ingenious suggests the power of inventing or discovering a new way of accomplishing something <an ingenious software engineer>.

sly, cunning, crafty, wily, tricky, foxy, artful, slick mean attaining or seeking to attain one's ends by guileful or devious means. sly implies furtiveness, lack of candor, and skill in concealing one's aims and methods <a sly corporate raider>. cunning suggests the inventive use of sometimes limited intelligence in overreaching or circumventing <the cunning fox avoided the trap>. crafty implies cleverness and subtlety of method <a crafty lefthander>. wily implies skill and deception in maneuvering <the wily fugitive escaped the posse>. tricky is more likely to suggest shiftiness and unreliability than skill in deception and maneuvering <a tricky political operative>. foxy implies a shrewd and wary craftiness usually involving devious dealing <a foxy publicity man planting stories>. artful implies indirectness in dealing and often connotes sophistication or cleverness <elicited the information by artful questioning>. slick emphasizes smoothness and guile <slick operators selling time-sharing>.

Rhymes with cunning



noun cun·ning \ˈkə-niŋ\

Simple Definition of cunning

  • : cleverness or skill especially at tricking people in order to get something

Full Definition of cunning

  1. 1 obsolete a :  knowledge, learning b :  magic art

  2. 2 :  dexterous skill and subtlety (as in inventing, devising, or executing) <high-ribbed vault … with perfect cunning framed — William Wordsworth>

  3. 3 :  craft, slyness

Examples of cunning

  1. The writing is best in the play's later scenes, when More deploys his legal cunning to help him weasel out of a political trap set by the oleaginous Thomas Cromwell … —John Lahr, New Yorker, 20 Oct. 2008

  2. Tsvetaeva was lacking, moreover, in any instinct for cunning or self-preservation, or even for what might be called mere getting along … —Claudia Roth Pierpont, New Yorker, 7 Feb. 1994

  3. He could see no change, save that in the eyes there was a look of cunning and in the mouth the curved wrinkle of the hypocrite. —Oscar Wilde, The Picture of Dorian Gray, 1891

  4. He may be a fraud, but you have to admire his cunning.

  5. <the cunning with which Tom Sawyer was able to get others to whitewash the fence for him>

Origin of cunning

(see 1cunning)

First Known Use: 14th century

Synonym Discussion of cunning

art, skill, cunning, artifice, craft mean the faculty of executing well what one has devised. art implies a personal, unanalyzable creative power <the art of choosing the right word>. skill stresses technical knowledge and proficiency <the skill of a glassblower>. cunning suggests ingenuity and subtlety in devising, inventing, or executing <a mystery plotted with great cunning>. artifice suggests technical skill especially in imitating things in nature <believed realism in film could be achieved only by artifice>. craft may imply expertness in workmanship <the craft of a master goldsmith>.

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February 10, 2016

to put in good humor

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