Definition of cunning in US English:



  • 1Having or showing skill in achieving one's ends by deceit or evasion.

    ‘a cunning look came into his eyes’
    • ‘Far from being instinct-driven dunces held back by a three-second memory, fish were cunning, manipulative, cultured and socially aware.’
    • ‘He subsequently discovers the whereabouts of the photograph by a cunning ruse.’
    • ‘Unfortunately, the laptop didn't fall for their cunning ruse.’
    • ‘First, it has to be said that the game scenario is a very cunning one, cleverly designed to lead the unsuspecting player astray.’
    • ‘They are very cunning and very devious.’
    • ‘So that was a very cunning ploy that she used.’
    • ‘He is full of charm when he gets his way, full of menace when he does not, unscrupulous, cunning and deceitful.’
    • ‘You've been tricked, the defamation of this cunning flower tricked you.’
    • ‘The truth is, though, sometimes spies really do resort to cunning disguises and hidden cameras.’
    • ‘He raised £10 million in less than a month, thanks to a particularly cunning manoeuvre: he invented a deadline.’
    • ‘He was supposedly a cunning manipulator who lured his adversary into a fatal trap.’
    • ‘Observations suggest they try a cunning psychological ploy to prevent their partner fleeing the nest.’
    • ‘The lies he fed me to achieve this were cunning and elaborate, and indeed, I was fooled.’
    • ‘They had to endear themselves both to the other people in the house and to the nation at large, and so we became voyeurs into their most cunning manipulations and most private moments.’
    • ‘What remains is a traditional case of a national paranoia being manipulated by a cunning business establishment to protect its entrenched interests.’
    • ‘But can the governments really have been to blame for inducing irrational exuberance in the bidders through the fiendishly cunning auction processes they devised?’
    • ‘I'm very suspicious of websites that confront you with bells and whistles and all manner of cunning design.’
    • ‘She's a cunning manipulator one moment, an adorably guileless charmer the next, one who tosses off winsome smiles like strike-zone fastballs.’
    • ‘Now, even if these are just sneaky sites by cunning marketers, they're working.’
    • ‘Fortunately, in an effort to cheer myself up, I've devised a fiendish and cunning plan to turn myself into a local celebrity.’
    crafty, wily, artful, guileful, devious, sly, knowing, scheming, designing, tricky, slippery, slick, manipulative, machiavellian, deceitful, deceptive, duplicitous, janus-faced
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    1. 1.1 Ingenious.
      ‘plants have evolved cunning defenses’
      • ‘More than once he bailed his master out of dangerous situation not by using force, but cunning tricks.’
      • ‘A little cunning skill is obviously useful, and luck is a vital ingredient that I like to enjoy in large measure.’
      • ‘It's a cunning skill, even more so as you can reverse the stroke in order to go backwards.’
      • ‘John would see my brilliant tactical plan and organize a cunning defence…’
      • ‘Tom however, through cunning reasoning skills, is able to get what he needs.’
      • ‘That's right, not only is it my birthday today but by a piece of cunning design today is also the day we complete on our new home.’
      • ‘He is a very ingenious and cunning writer and it's fun to see him skewer the targets he aims for with acerbic wit and intelligence.’
      • ‘This year the ingenious Councillor has thought up a cunning plan that will see the town's streets swept clean of dog dirt.’
      • ‘After all, when it comes to cunning stunts, we may have a natural advantage.’
      • ‘I listened intently, for he was right, his plans were very cunning.’
      • ‘Today's aggressor is cunning, ingenious, pragmatic, and at the same time not limited by any moral constraints.’
      ingenious, clever, skilful, adroit, crafty, wily, artful, devious
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  • 2North American Attractive or quaint.

    ‘the baby will look cunning in that pink print’
    • ‘She looked so cunning with her dark green cloak setting off her green eyes.’
    picturesque, charming, sweet, attractive, pleasantly old-fashioned, old-fashioned, old-world, toytown
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  • 1Skill in achieving one's ends by deceit.

    ‘a statesman to whom cunning had come as second nature’
    • ‘Having determined on murder, he then planned the crime - normally a poisoning - with the utmost cunning, only to be undone by some small unforeseen error.’
    • ‘If they had any skills other than devious animal cunning, they would have looked closer at the boy.’
    • ‘Imagine the tenacity, the motor skills, the sheer reptile cunning involved.’
    • ‘The ward bosses' unanticipated about-face was not motivated by conversion but cunning and deceit that cynically betrayed public trust.’
    • ‘This was their big chance, so why not employ a bit of cunning to achieve it?’
    • ‘The precise techniques of the hunt have varied, but until recent years the principle virtues of falconry remained constant: patience and cunning.’
    • ‘There was no doubt that they would be able to intercept the fugitives, but it would take skill and cunning and not a little luck to close the jaws and trap the prey between them.’
    • ‘We should be working these refs with wily cunning.’
    • ‘Only with the cunning of the fox can you extricate yourself from these grim precincts.’
    • ‘The first embraces trickery and cunning, the second embraces manipulation and deception, with no lie being too great, no friendship not worth betraying.’
    • ‘The directness of the message, which is somewhat bluntly conveyed, is a somewhat disappointing end to an extraordinary novel that is full of subtlety and cunning.’
    • ‘They will send hunters to trap me or bring me down, but all will fall to my clever traps and animal cunning.’
    • ‘She seemed so innocent, her previous deviousness and cunning gone in a flash.’
    • ‘These are two young bucks full of guile and cunning, mobile and versatile in the modern fashion and eager to wreak havoc with Dutch organisation.’
    • ‘She showed no weakness, instead attaining her goals through cunning, skill, and brutality.’
    • ‘For bridge, all you need is a playing partner, a pair of opponents, a set of cards - and a capacity for wicked, devious cunning.’
    • ‘And to survive you have to negotiate it with all the cunning of a fox.’
    • ‘In fact, Houdini relied on great skill, low cunning, and keeping tiny metal picklocks concealed about his person.’
    • ‘They start becoming cunning, cruel, diplomatic, political.’
    • ‘But the longer the half wore on the sense a tad more craft, guile or cunning was needed to break through the formidable and sizeable Shrewsbury defence grew and grew.’
    guile, craftiness, wiliness, artfulness, deviousness, slyness, trickery, trickiness, duplicity, deceitfulness, deceit, chicanery
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    1. 1.1 Ingenuity.
      ‘what resources of energy and cunning it took just to survive’
      • ‘Rommel was supposed to have gained victory over the British through his superior military skills and cunning.’
      • ‘Thus far, she had failed to show him either skill or cunning.’
      • ‘What he may lack in finesse or cunning, he makes up for in raw firepower.’
      • ‘This time she must seem the forlorn victim, with no resources of sinew or cunning to save her - only the kindness of strangers.’
      • ‘Here he personifies folk cunning, good humour and common sense.’
      • ‘His pale blue eyes, sparkling with intelligence and cunning, caught my gaze and held it steadily.’
      • ‘The story is narrated by the chieftain's second son, widely regarded as an ‘idiot’ but possessing both wisdom and cunning.’
      • ‘This is considered the purest form of Poker - where more often than not, but not always, skill and cunning overcomes opportunism.’
      • ‘He's otherwise dull, demonstrating few signs of intelligence or cunning.’
      • ‘On the other hand, no computer could match human cunning, which was different from mere intelligence.’
      • ‘The latter confronts Wilde with the logic and cunning of his profession.’
      • ‘His eyes showed an intelligence and cunning totally at odds with his grandfatherly appearance.’
      • ‘And while the common law judges, with the prestige, wealth and cunning of the national government behind them, were ascendant forces, they had to tread rather softly.’
      • ‘The monk's legendary alter ego was a rebel against his feudal leaders, fighting with supernatural strength, cunning, and skills.’
      • ‘Apparently he likes to maintain the illusion that there is some great political cunning at work, that his selections reveal his innate ability to foresee problems and win seats.’
      • ‘Even though she doesn't invent what she does, she has the cunning and intelligence to pick up on other people's style so immediately that it's like she thought of it.’
      • ‘Perhaps you will forgive me replying to the contention that animal cunning will be overtaken by human ingenuity.’
      • ‘The audience is tempted to appropriate the position within the play it believes possesses the most cunning and insight into the play itself.’
      shrewdness, astuteness, sharp-wittedness, sharpness, acuteness, acumen, acuity, intelligence
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Middle English: perhaps from Old Norse kunnandi ‘knowledge’, from kunna ‘know’ (related to can), or perhaps from Middle English cunne, an obsolete variant of can. The original sense was ‘(possessing) erudition or skill’ and had no implication of deceit; the sense ‘deceitfulness’ dates from late Middle English.