cunning

adjective
cun·​ning | \ ˈkə-niŋ How to pronounce cunning (audio) \

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
b : magic art

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Other Words from cunning

Adjective

cunningly \ ˈkə-​niŋ-​lē How to pronounce cunning (audio) \ 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 In Detroit, a cunning serial killer pushes young detective and psychologist Alex Cross to his moral and psychological limits. Ed Stockly, Los Angeles Times, "Movies on TV this week: James Dean in ‘Giant’ on TCM and more," 2 Apr. 2021 In Detroit, a cunning serial killer pushes young detective and psychologist Alex Cross to his moral and psychological limits. Ed Stockly, Los Angeles Times, "Movies on TV this week: ‘My Fair Lady’; ‘Marry Poppins’," 19 Mar. 2021 If a life can be encapsulated within a single day, that 1951 appearance in Washington was pitch perfect Virginia Hill -- glamorous, brutal, cunning, and charming. al, "Virginia Hill, Alabama-born mob queen, testified before US Senate 70 years ago," 16 Mar. 2021 In Detroit, a cunning serial killer pushes young detective and psychologist Alex Cross to his moral and psychological limits. Los Angeles Times, "Movies on TV this week: ‘Gandhi’; ‘Forrest Gump’ and more," 26 Feb. 2021 Clare is quiet and cunning, always intent on her own pleasure. Hilton Als, The New Yorker, "Acting Black and White Onscreen," 22 Feb. 2021 White is a cunning defender with quick feet, crafty hands and a knack for being in the right place at the right time. Jeff Mcdonald, San Antonio Express-News, "Spurs' starting backcourt becoming a defensive dynamic duo," 13 Feb. 2021 Deciding on which portable toilet to line up for is a practice of great skill and cunning. Alex Cortez, NOLA.com, "Ode to the porta-toilet," 4 Feb. 2021 This video from Periyar Tiger Reserve in southern India, is full of suspense as the tiger ascends the tree and draws closer to its intended prey, but the monkey proves to be a cunning foe. Matt Delong, Star Tribune, "TALKERS011121," 11 Jan. 2021 Recent Examples on the Web: Noun Speeding, failing to yield, unsafe turning, red-light cunning and driving under the influence were the leading causes of traffic fatalities, the report found. Michael Cabanatuan, San Francisco Chronicle, "Oakland traffic deaths jumped by 22% in 2020. Communities of color suffered the most. Here's why," 23 Mar. 2021 But the son was already known for using cunning means to reach saintly ends. Dan Zak, Washington Post, "The father, the son and the holy Cuomo mess," 17 Mar. 2021 There is immense reward in hauling your own body to the top of a wall using nothing but flexibility, cunning, and the strength of a couple of fingers. Jacqueline Detwiler-george, Popular Mechanics, "How to Get Started in Rock Climbing," 16 Mar. 2021 As Lia grows into her role as the Studio’s resident mole-for-hire, Pekkari shows flashes of humor and a survivalist’s cunning, along with a no-B.S. cool that even Fried and his toxic minions have to admire. San Diego Union-Tribune, "Column: Strong Nordic women rule in ‘Cold Courage,’ a new thriller on AMC+," 12 Mar. 2021 Known as André in the play, he has been renamed here in honor of his interpreter, Anthony Hopkins, who repays it with a performance of extraordinary psychological cunning and emotional force. Los Angeles Times, "Review: ‘The Father’ showcases Anthony Hopkins at his devastating best," 25 Feb. 2021 But Hirst still found ways to showcase Ragnar’s exceptional cunning and fortitude by showing that the devious Viking orchestrated his own death to spur his sons into uniting together to seek revenge. Sadie Gennis, Vulture, "Vikings’ Most Memorable Deaths, As Chosen by Its Creator," 11 Jan. 2021 Maradona was the platonic ideal of a pibe, all virtuoso skill and impetuous cunning. Rory Smith, New York Times, "The Most Human of Immortals," 25 Nov. 2020 Coyotes long have been associated with cunning and trickery, especially in American Indian folklore. René A. Guzman, ExpressNews.com, "Coyote sightings common at San Antonio Spurs games and, increasingly, in the wild," 24 Nov. 2020

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 and Noun

Middle English, from present participle of can know

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Time Traveler for cunning

Time Traveler

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

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Statistics for cunning

Last Updated

8 Apr 2021

Cite this Entry

“Cunning.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/cunning. Accessed 11 Apr. 2021.

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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 How to pronounce cunning (audio) \

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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Comments on cunning

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