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
3 obsolete
b : magic art

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Other Words from cunning

Adjective

cunningly \ ˈkə-​niŋ-​lē How to pronounce cunningly (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 Investigators said the Golden State Killer was cunning, sometimes observing his victims and plotting escape routes before launching an attack. Justin Jouvenal, Washington Post, "Man accused of being ‘Golden State Killer’ expected to plead guilty," 29 June 2020 Meet your new neighbor, the coyote, and find out why these cunning canids are on the rise in North America—and beyond. National Geographic, "Epsiode 2: The Unstoppable Wily Coyote," 23 June 2020 The film concerns a gang of child-snatching mobsters who make the fatal mistake of kidnapping the Waka Stars, a team of pint-sized kung-fu masters who soon turn their cunning wits and deadly skills upon their captors. Clark Collis, EW.com, "Watch the bonkers trailer for the Wakaliwood action movie Crazy World," 16 June 2020 Beneath her blunt-cut bangs lies a cunning mind capable of weaving sports metaphors and references to ’80s sitcoms into complex rhymes about scoring with girls and blowing guys’ minds. Aaron Gilbreath, Longreads, "The Power and Business of Hip-Hop: A Reading List on an American Art Form," 12 Sep. 2010 Four months since that game-changing strike, Iran's proxy network continues to operate, but without the charismatic and cunning terrorist who coordinated their efforts. Fox News, "The aftermath of Qassem Soleimani's death and his daughter's rise to prominence," 29 May 2020 True to archetype, wide-eyed Paloma turns out to be more cunning than Selah anticipates, and Selah must scramble to hold onto her place in the chain of command. Teo Bugbee, New York Times, "‘Selah and the Spades’ Review: This Isn’t Your Average Teen Drama," 16 Apr. 2020 Quinn and Patricia haven’t shown the same cunning eye in Detroit. Shawn Windsor, Detroit Free Press, "Detroit Lions had a choice with Darius Slay. They chose their culture instead," 20 Mar. 2020 The Japanese giant believes AI will create smarter cameras, more cunning videogame characters, and even the first helpful kitchen robots. Will Knight, Wired, "Sony Envisions an AI-Fueled World, From Kitchen Bots to Games," 13 Feb. 2020 Recent Examples on the Web: Noun The film is a strange snapshot of the bizarre forces shaping culture consumption now: Netflix’s algorithmic cunning, people’s general antsiness during the pandemic—and, of course, the specific disappointment of missing out on warm-weather flings. Hannah Giorgis, The Atlantic, "Why People Are Obsessed With a Terrible Polish Erotic Thriller," 26 June 2020 The fictional Catherine, played with flinty cunning by Elle Fanning, does not wait almost two decades before staging her revolt. Rachel Syme, The New Yorker, "“The Great,” Reviewed: A Proudly Fictional, Pleasurably Vulgar Spin on Catherine the Great," 18 June 2020 Through nerve, cunning, a skillet filled with boiling oil and the gruesome misuse of an underling — deployed as a bullet-proof vest — Lalo survived an armed home invasion against very steep odds. David Segal, New York Times, "‘Better Call Saul’ Season 5 Finale Recap: Close Calls," 20 Apr. 2020 Yet there is no cunning or malice to Miranda’s approach to The Circle. Ariana Romero, refinery29.com, "Will Miranda Win The Circle With This Very Bachelorette Strategy?," 3 Jan. 2020 As Georges’s compulsion to film his exploits grows, so does his cunning, the camera an excuse to fully indulge his psychosis. Jeannette Catsoulis, New York Times, "‘Deerskin’ Review: Swayed by Suede," 30 Apr. 2020 Written by Julia Donaldson and illustrated by Axel Scheffler, the beloved 1999 book focuses on a mouse who uses his cunning to avoid being eaten. Rachel Yang, EW.com, "Feeling stressed? Let Michelle Obama read you the children's book The Gruffalo," 20 Apr. 2020 The evil, mocking cunning of this virus is to have rendered all those temples of delight and enlightenment potential death traps. Anastasia Edel, The New York Review of Books, "Pandemic Journal, March 17–22," 22 Mar. 2020 The work environment that Claiborne would inhabit for the next three years included frequent security briefings and warnings about the cunning of China’s intelligence services. The Economist, "The friendly Mr Wu," 1 May 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

12 Jul 2020

Cite this Entry

“Cunning.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/cunning. Accessed 8 Aug. 2020.

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More Definitions for cunning

cunning

adjective
How to pronounce cunning (audio)

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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More from Merriam-Webster on cunning

Thesaurus: All synonyms and antonyms for cunning

Rhyming Dictionary: Words that rhyme with 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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