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Scottish National Dictionary (1700–)

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First published 1941 (SND Vol. II). Includes material from the 2005 supplement.
This entry has not been updated since then but may contain minor corrections and revisions.

CA' CANNY, v.phr. To proceed warily, to be moderate. Gen.Sc. Also as adj.phr., gen. with policy; now in gen. use in Eng. and Western America as applied to the trade-union policy of limiting output; and as n.phrs.: ca'-cannyism, ca' cannyness, moderation, caution, “ca' canny” policy.Sc. 1991 T. S. Law in Tom Hubbard The New Makars 34:
This was a sairlik jobe tae tak,
an gif the chiel was no sae swack
o mynd as caw gy caunnilie,
but gabbit gyan coorselik, say,
he'd finnd the waefou news as ill.
Sc. 2000 Scotsman 22 Mar 7:
Perhaps Brown's caw canny Budget reflects his fear that too much loosening of the purse strings would lead to the Bank of England raising interest rates and thus the value of the pound.
Sc. 2004 Evening Times 28 Jan 30:
They admit they are going to have to caw canny for a few seasons now.
Abd. 1913 W. R. Nicoll in Abd. Univ. Review (Nov.) 39:
The favourite proverbs of Aberdeenshire point to a sober, moderate, and controlled attitude to life. “Ca' canny and flee laigh” is one of the most characteristic.
Abd. 1996 Sheena Blackhall Wittgenstein's Web 12:
In fact, fin they'd bare seen the licht o day, they kent that 'twis important tae tak tent, first in ae ee, syne in the tither, tae see gin there war ferlies tae ett, or ferlies tae ca-cannie ower.
m.Sc. 1994 Martin Bowman and Bill Findlay Forever Yours, Marie-Lou 3:
Ye should caw canny oan the breid, no eat sae much ae it ...
em.Sc. 2000 James Robertson The Fanatic 71:
'Speakin o madmen and shootin at bishops,' said Lauder, 'I hae a mind tae visit the Bass. I was speirin ma guidfaither aboot it earlier. James Mitchel is the man I want tae see.'
Eleis raised his eyebrows. 'Caw cannie, man,' he said.
wm.Sc. 1995 Alan Warner Morvern Callar 100:
Now caw-canny on boulders cause if you fall you'll break your leg in a split second, I says.
Arg. 1907 N. Munro Daft Days viii.:
He . . . added, “I would — I would ca' canny wi' the toddy, Colin,” coating the pill in sweet and kindly Scots.
Gsw. 1917 Glasgow Herald (9 Aug.) 3/7:
The letter . . . unintentionally detracts, by its extreme “ca' cannyness,” from the merits of the proposed scheme.
Gsw. 1921 Ib. (17 June) 6:
Mr Ramsay MacDonald recommends “a magnificently organised system of passive resistance,” which, plainly interpreted by his followers, means Ca'-cannyism.
Ayr. 1821 John Galt Annals of the Parish xlviii:
To admonish the bride and bridegroom to ca canny.
Ayr. 1832 John Galt Blackwood's Magazine Oct 651:
The motto of our borough, "Ca' canny, wi' the Lord's help."
Rxb. 1921 B. Whutson in Hawick Express (29 April) 3/6:
This ca' canny policy they've been indulgin' in in the past is unfair to the country at lairge.

[From Ca', v.1, III. 1. (3), and Canny, adv.]

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"Ca' Canny v. phr.". Dictionary of the Scots Language. 2004. Scottish Language Dictionaries Ltd. Accessed 21 Jun 2024 <>



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