From Middle English cunning, kunning, konnyng, alteration of earlier Middle English cunninde, kunnende, cunnand, from Old English cunnende, present participle of cunnan (“to know how to, be able to”), equivalent to con + -ing. Cognate with Scots cunnand (“cunning”), German könnend (“able to do”), Icelandic kunnandi (“cunning”). More at con, can.
- Sly; crafty; clever in surreptitious behaviour.
- Synonyms: see Thesaurus:wily
- (obsolete) Skillful, artful.
- c. 1601–1602, William Shakespeare, “Twelfe Night, or VVhat You VVill”, in Mr. William Shakespeares Comedies, Histories, & Tragedies […] (First Folio), London: […] Isaac Iaggard, and Ed[ward] Blount, published 1623, OCLC 606515358, [Act I, scene v]:
- Tis beauty truly blent, whose red and white / Nature's own sweet and cunning hand laid on.
- (obsolete) Wrought with, or exhibiting, skill or ingenuity; ingenious.
- cunning work
- (US, colloquial, dated, New England) Cute, appealing.
- 1857, Barbara H. Channing, The Sisters Abroad, Or, an Italian Journey:
- everybody gives something to the cunning little boy; his eyes are large and soft, and he wears a pointed hat, and tight breeches, and jacket
- 1869–1870, Louisa M[ay] Alcott, chapter XV, in An Old-Fashioned Girl, Boston, Mass.: Roberts Brothers, published 1870, OCLC 632728863:
- “I shan't mind that at all, I like the little house 'cause it's got a garden, and there's a cunning room with a three-cornered closet in it that I always wanted. […] ”
- The translations below need to be checked and inserted above into the appropriate translation tables, removing any numbers. Numbers do not necessarily match those in definitions. See instructions at Wiktionary:Entry layout § Translations.
From Middle English cunning, kunnyng, partially from Old English *cunning (verbal noun), from Old English cunnan (“to know how to, be able to”); partially from Old English cunnung (“knowledge, trial, probation, experience, contact, carnal knowledge”), from cunnian (“to search into, try, test, seek for, explore, investigate, experience, have experience of, to make trial of, know”), equivalent to con + -ing.
- Practical knowledge or experience; aptitude in performance; skill, proficiency; dexterity.
- Practical skill employed in a secret or crafty manner; craft; artifice; skillful deceit; art or magic.
- 1610–1611, William Shakespeare, “The Tempest”, in Mr. William Shakespeares Comedies, Histories, & Tragedies […] (First Folio), London: […] Isaac Iaggard, and Ed[ward] Blount, published 1623, OCLC 606515358, [Act III, scene ii]:
- Caliban: As I told thee before, I am subject to a tyrant, a sorcerer that by his cunning hath cheated me of the island.
- The disposition to employ one's skill in an artful manner; craftiness; guile; artifice; skill of being cunning, sly, conniving, or deceitful.
- The natural wit or instincts of an animal.
- the cunning of the fox or hare
- (obsolete) Knowledge; learning; special knowledge (sometimes implying occult or magical knowledge).