Printable Version
Pronunciation: kæn-ni Hear it!

Part of Speech: Adjective

Meaning: 1. Knowing, judicious, prudent; frugal. 2. (Scottish) Steady, restrained, and gentle.

Notes: Today's word has an ostensible orphan negative even though it survives with its original meaning unchanged. The negative, uncanny, has come to mean "weird, eerie, of supernatural nature", and is no longer related semantically to today's word. The comparative forms are cannier and canniest, while the adverb is cannily and the noun, canniness.

In Play: Today's word works whenever you wish to characterize something as judicious and steady: "Father Gerhard's canny management of his parish spared it and him the embarrassment suffered in other parishes." Although this is the basic meaning of the word, it has a long association with the judicious control of financial matters: "Luella has a canny sense of exactly how much money her husband can expend over the weekend and arrive at work on time Monday morning—and she dispenses it accordingly."

Word History: Today's Good Word was cunnan "to know how, be able to" in Old English, also the origin of cunning. Couth, now found only in uncouth except in jokes, comes from Old English cuth "well-known, excellent", a word sharing an origin with cunnan. Another relative is the kith of 'kith and kin' from Old English cyth "acquaintance, friendship, kinfolk". Old English cnawan, today's know, comes from the same Proto-Indo-European root, gno- "to know". A descendant of this root is found in Latin cognscere "to come to know, get acquainted with" and ignorare "to not know, to disregard", underlying English ignore and ignorant. With a different suffix, (g)no-dhli- "knowable, known", we get Latin nobilis "knowable, known, famous" and the English borrowing noble. The Greek variant, gignskein "to know, think", lies behind English gnome, gnostic, and diagnosis.

Dr. Goodword,

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