cunning

adjective
cun·​ning | \ˈkə-niŋ \

Definition of cunning 

(Entry 1 of 2)

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

2 : characterized by wiliness and trickery cunning schemes

3 : prettily appealing : cute a cunning little kitten

4 : displaying keen insight a cunning observation

cunning

noun

Definition of cunning (Entry 2 of 2)

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

2 : craft, slyness

3 obsolete

a : knowledge, learning

b : magic art

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Other Words from cunning

Adjective

cunningly \ˈkə-​niŋ-​lē \ adverb
cunningness noun

Choose the Right Synonym for cunning

Adjective

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

Noun

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

Examples of cunning in a Sentence

Adjective

… 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 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 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 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 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 She was cunning enough to fool me. a cunning, underhanded plan to win the election by preying on people's fears and prejudices

Noun

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 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 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 He may be a fraud, but you have to admire his cunning. the cunning with which Tom Sawyer was able to get others to whitewash the fence for him
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Recent Examples on the Web: Adjective

Trump considers China one of America’s most cunning adversaries. Alex Ward, Vox, "Trump’s China strategy is the most radical in decades — and it’s failing," 18 Sep. 2018 Cats and dogs can be cunning escape artists, especially when an open door beckons. Karen Asp, Good Housekeeping, "Everything You Need to Know About How to Find a Lost Pet," 30 July 2018 Unpacking the mystery involved some cunning detective work from a coalition of scientists at Boston University and the U.S. Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases. Lucy Cooke, Washington Post, "The batty, explosive history of bats in the military — and why this new idea just might work," 2 July 2018 The formula for their allure cuts a cunning line between candid and crude. Richard Morgan, New York Times, "The Inevitable Rise of the Gay Hooters," 21 June 2018 Mitt Romney in one of the most cunning never- Trump moments. Fox News, "Former Senate aide James Wolfe arrested for lying to FBI," 9 June 2018 Calling in sick the day before a vacation starts is not a cunning maneuver, and seems likely to raise a suspicious manager’s eyebrow no matter what the details. New York Times, "Casual Office Chatter Gets a Colleague in Trouble. Now What?," 12 May 2018 Other satellites make a cunning use of gravity to estimate the snow and ice mass. Mejs Hasan, WIRED, "How Scientists Tracked Antarctica's Stunning Ice Loss," 13 June 2018 But his behavior is also perfectly consistent with a cunning ploy to find a legal path to firing the special counsel. Jonathan Chait, Daily Intelligencer, "How Trump Could Get Scott Pruitt to Fire Robert Mueller," 11 June 2018

Recent Examples on the Web: Noun

Making his film debut, Richie Merritt plays Rick as a sullen, evidently stupid and certainly uncharismatic schemer in possession of a modicum of animal cunning and perhaps a hint of personal insight. John Anderson, WSJ, "‘White Boy Rick’ Review: Trafficking Drugs, Guns and Info," 13 Sep. 2018 There are some cunning and unexpected choices in the musical selections as well. Kerry Reid, chicagotribune.com, "Clever greatest-hit connections between Shakes and song in Len Cariou's 'Broadway & the Bard'," 8 June 2018 Hurt, delight, cunning, resentment, and sensuality appear naked on the children’s faces. Cate Mcquaid, BostonGlobe.com, "At PEM, Sally Mann stays outside the comfort zone," 12 July 2018 Murphy plays the character as a suitably humorless waif, a fair match in zealotry, dumb cunning and cat-fancying sentimentality for the swaggering Padraic. Leslie Felperin, The Hollywood Reporter, "'The Lieutenant of Inishmore': Theater Review," 5 July 2018 Now in anonymous retirement, he is called upon to lend his expertise to an unusual investigation but ultimately becomes caught in a terrifying race against time to save America from a cunning terrorist. Etan Vlessing, The Hollywood Reporter, "James Gray to Direct Terrorism Thriller 'I Am Pilgrim' for MGM," 16 Apr. 2018 Indeed, Trump triumphed despite having all of Cohn’s debits, wartime draft dodging included, but none of his assets — legal cunning, erudition, a sense of humor, brainpower, and loyalty. Frank Rich, Daily Intelligencer, "The Original Donald Trump," 29 Apr. 2018 From the Magazine The USA Network show that launched Markle’s career is an unpretentious tournament of wit and cunning. James Wolcott, HWD, "Confessions of a Suits Fan: Why the Legal Drama That Launched Meghan Markle Works," 27 Apr. 2018 Villanelle’s hiding-in-plain-sight proposition is one that, for the fashion-obsessed among us, makes the cunning show all the more captivating. Steff Yotka, Vogue, "Killing Eve Is the Most Fashionable Show on TV," 27 Apr. 2018

These example sentences are selected automatically from various online news sources to reflect current usage of the word 'cunning.' Views expressed in the examples do not represent the opinion of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback.

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First Known Use of cunning

Adjective

14th century, in the meaning defined at sense 1

Noun

14th century, in the meaning defined at sense 3a

History and Etymology for cunning

Adjective

Middle English, from present participle of can know

Noun

see cunning entry 1

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Statistics for cunning

Last Updated

18 Nov 2018

Look-up Popularity

Time Traveler for cunning

The first known use of cunning was in the 14th century

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More Definitions for cunning

cunning

adjective

English Language Learners Definition of cunning

 (Entry 1 of 2)

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

cunning

noun

English Language Learners Definition of cunning (Entry 2 of 2)

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

cunning

adjective
cun·​ning | \ˈkə-niŋ \

Kids Definition of cunning

 (Entry 1 of 2)

1 : skillful and clever at using special knowledge or at getting something done a cunning craftsman

2 : showing craftiness and trickery a cunning plot a cunning thief

cunning

noun

Kids Definition of cunning (Entry 2 of 2)

1 : skill sense 1, dexterity … they … felt the love of beautiful things made by hands and by cunning— J. R. R. Tolkien, The Hobbit

2 : cleverness or skill especially at tricking people in order to get something … she had been defeated by the superior cunning of the aged witch …— L. Frank Baum, The Marvelous Land of Oz

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More from Merriam-Webster on cunning

Rhyming Dictionary: Words that rhyme with cunning

Thesaurus: All synonyms and antonyms for cunning

Spanish Central: Translation of cunning

Nglish: Translation of cunning for Spanish Speakers

Britannica English: Translation of cunning for Arabic Speakers

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