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.
- 1698, Robert South, Twelve Sermons upon Several Subjects and Occasions:
- They are resolved to be cunning; let others run the hazard of being sincere.
- (obsolete) Skillful, artful.
- 1611, The Holy Bible, […] (King James Version), London: […] Robert Barker, […], OCLC 964384981, Genesis 25:27:
- Esau was a cunning hunter.
- 1611, The Holy Bible, […] (King James Version), London: […] Robert Barker, […], OCLC 964384981, Exodus 38:23:
- a cunning workman
- c. 1601–1602, William Shakespeare, “Twelfe Night, or VVhat You VVill”, in Mr. William Shakespeares Comedies, Histories, & Tragedies: Published According to the True Originall Copies (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.
- a cunning little boy
- (Can we find and add a quotation of Bartlett to this entry?)
- See also Thesaurus:wily
- 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.
- 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).