Canny vs uncanny

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Canny and uncanny appear to be antonyms, but they are not. Antonyms are two or more words that have opposing meanings. We will examine the definitions of the words canny and uncanny, where they came from and some examples of their use in sentences.

Canny means shrewd, prudent, clever, astute, thrifty. The word canny is originally Scottish, and is derived from the word can in the sense of knowing. Related words are cannier, canniest, cannily, canniness.

Uncanny describes something that is mysterious, eerie, something hard to explain or something that is outside of one’s understanding. Uncanny is often used to describe something that is supernatural, but not always. An obsolete meaning of the word canny was knowledge. This definition survives in the word uncanny, meaning something that is outside of one’s knowledge. Related words are uncannier, uncanniest, uncannily, uncanniness.


Boyle was canny as well as beautiful and managed to put the way she looked to good use in a television and modelling career that lasted more than three decades. (The Guardian)

He likes Robert Peel but is distrustful of Benjamin Dis­raeli, although he acknowledges that the empire-building dandy was canny enough to realise gravitas was the natural tone for a fogbound nation. (The Australian)

With the mid-twentieth-century battle of styles long past, Bernstein’s deliberately conservative harmonic idioms and extravagant lyricism hold up beautifully, along with his uncanny sense of orchestration; in spite of the lofty references to ancient Greek philosophy, the flavors of Candide and West Side Story abound, in a good way. (The Texas Classical Review)

“The closest you can get to real life is probably film, so you kind of enter into the uncanny valley when you start putting it on old media,” Moorhead explains. (Vanity Fair Magazine)