'This canny lady…' - positive or negative?


Could you say whether the adjective canny, being used in relation to the third person, a negative or positive reference (in the modern English)?

Or it entirely depends on the tone? (In this case, how would you understand its positivity if it’s just written in the informal description?

Morning Tamara,

Canny to me has a suggestion of cunning. To my mind there isn’t really a perjorative undertone. Funnily enough I have just heard it used on the BBC Radio 4 Today programme. As I was half asleep I didn’t quite catch the context but there was no ‘negative’ suggestion. Another similar word is ‘crafty’. When we use these adjectives to describe someone who is being cunning/crafty/shrewd we say it also with a hint of admiration for the person. For some reason I associate the word as follows: A canny Scot. The Scottish people have a reputation for being careful with their money mainly because over generations they have had a hard time earning a living from a barren land. In fact they are the one race that has sought work in other countries more than many others.


Morning Alan,

Thanks a lot.

The greatest problem for me with the adjective (and with cunning) is that dictionaries give two opposite descriptions, and the negative one is the first…

For example,


Thanks again for your validation. Its really valuable for me, in my free-style ‘swimming’ :slight_smile:



Far be it for me to challenge a dictionary but I think the perjorative adjective to describe the first listed explanations would be ‘sly’. Now that is deceptive in meaning. I think I’d rather be called cunning than sly.

Yours craftily,


Hi Tamara

I agree with Mr. Crafty. :smiley:
To me, the word cunning often has some kind of negative or deceptive aspect associated with it and also the sense of cleverness.

BUT I would never say “my cunning cat” to mean “my delicately pleasing, cute cat.” That is a usage that is foreign to me. :shock: (I’m sure the local mice find my cats quite cunning… but not pleasing. :lol:)

By the way, you might find this interesting. I know I did. :smiley:



What I’ve now found in BNC is he looks cunning. :shock:

([size=92]Going to think about[/size] :))