Scottish National Dictionary (1700–)

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CANNY, CANNIE, Cawney, Kanni, Kanny, Kannie, Connie, adj. and adv. Also used in Eng. dials. [′kɑn Sc., but m.Sc. + ′k(:)n (Wilson Dials. c. Scot.) and Uls. + ′kɔn, ′k(:)n]

I. adj.

1. Knowing, wise, shrewd; careful, cautious (Sh. 1914 Angus Gl., kanni; Uls.2 1929, connie). W. H. Patterson in Gl. Ant. and Dwn. (1880) gives the form cawney. Gen.Sc. Sc. 1814 Scott Waverley (1817) xv.:
He recommended that some canny hand should be sent up the glens, to make the best bargain he could.
Lth. 1925 C. P. Slater Marget Pow 9:
Be canny when it comes to washing the best china.
Edb. 1772 R. Fergusson Sc. Poems (1925) 23:
It's good as lang's a canny chiel Can stand steeve in his shoon.
wm.Sc. [1835–1837] Laird of Logan (1868) 98:
A necessitous individual, who lived by levies on friends, . . . made up to a canny son of the north . . . for the loan of ten pounds.
Uls. 1922 S. S. McCurry Ballads of Ballytumulty 33:
Poor Madge encouraged Hughy John With many a word an' smile, But cute or canny he sut on In swithers all the while.

Hence (1) cannily, adv., carefully; quietly; (2) canniness, n., caution; (3) canny-weys, adv., cautiously (Bnff.2, Abd.9, Ags.1 1938). Derivatives can be similarly formed in any of the senses 28. (1) Sc. 1728 Ramsay Poems II. 91:
Thus steering cannily throw Life, Your Joys shall lasting be and rife.
Abd. 1925 A. Murison Rosehearty Rhymes 9:
The great thing in life wis a poachin' exploit. Jamie, an' Peter, an' Robbie, the three Gaed cannily doon to the edge o' the sea.
(2) Fif. 1900 “S. Tytler” Jean Keir of Craigneil xv.:
Jenny Baird, but a silly woman in her canniness, to have both husband and son taken from her in one night . . .!
(3) Ags.(D) 1894 J. B. Salmond My Man Sandy (1899) i.:
Jookin' awa' roond canny-weys to the horse's heid.

2. Skilful, dexterous (Bnff.2, Abd.9, Fif.1, Lnl.1 1938). Sc. 1816 Scott O. Mortality v.:
His wife was a canny body and could dress things very weel for ane in her line o' business.
Ork.(D) 1880 Dennison Orcad. Sk. Bk. 15:
The officer wus canny eneuch at fencin'.
Abd. after 1768 A. Ross Fortunate Shepherd MS. 68:
Who have nae other trade, but ilka day Are growing cannyer at that bloody play.
Ags. 1820 R. Mudie Glenfergus II. xxiv.:
Old Effie; who, as she herself said, and the Doctor certified, was the canniest hand about a sick bed in a' Fergustown.
Rnf. 1788 E. Picken Poems, etc. 75:
Whan rhime to rhime, wi' kanny skill Ye kipple to compactly.

3. Favourable; fortunate, lucky, of good omen, esp. in a superstitious sense. Gen.Sc. Often used with a negative = unnatural, supernatural (Slg.3, Lnl.1 1938). Sc. 1721 Ramsay Poems 375–376:
Whaever by his kanny Fate Is Master of a good Estate . . . Let him enjoy't withoutten Care.
Sc. 1814 Scott Waverley (1817) lxvii.:
At these unsonsy hours the glen has a bad name — there's something no that canny about auld Janet Gellatley.
w.Abd. 1797–1881 W. D. Geddes (ed.) Mem. of J. Geddes (1899) 41:
It is to be feared that “Cotties” and his clan were . . . as much dreaded as they were respected, the belief being that they were “nae jist a' thegither canny,” and report had it that they had tried strange “cantraips” to obtain power over the invisible world.
Per. c.1800 Lady Nairne Songs (ed. Rogers 1886) 229:
I'll try her again, and that maks thrice, And thrice, they say, is canny.
Edb. 1894 P. H. Hunter J. Inwick xviii.:
Lordsake, thinks I, this is no' canny! There maun be ghaists aboot!
Peb. 1715 A. Pennecuik Descr. of Tweeddale and Sc. Poems 62:
Farewel, old Calins, kannie all thy Life, By Birth, by Issue and a Vertuous Wife.
Ayr. 1822 Galt Provost xl.:
I, however, took a canny opportunity of remarking to old Mr Dinledoup.
Uls.(D) 1879 W. G. Lyttle Readings by Robin 16:
A lump o' a barefitted lass wae her heid a' in a toother cum up tae us an' stud glowerin' at me as tho' I had been sumthin' no' canny.

4. Applied to one who deals in the supernatural; only in combs. (1) canny man, (2) — wife, (3) — woman. Known to Abd.9, Fif.10 (for Mearns), Fif.1 1938. Arch. (1) ne.Sc. 1881 W. Gregor Folk-Lore of N.-E. Scot. 32:
The husband consulted a canny man.
(2) Ayr. 1824 A. Crawford Tales of my Grandmother (1825) I. 180:
Yonder's the canny wife's bield!
(3) Bnff. 1890 Trans. Bnffsh. Field Club 56:
All its [horse's] strength was gone. The “canny woman” of the district was sent for. She then took hold of the lower corners of her apron and gave it a flap in the animal's face. Up it jumped as fresh as if nothing had been the matter.

5. Frugal, saving; sparing, scanty (Bnff.2, Abd.9, Ags.17, Fif.1, Slg.3, Lnl.1, Kcb.1 1938). Fif.10 1938:
Be canny wi' the butter, bairns; that's a' there is in the hoose.
Edb. 1811 H. Macneill Bygane Times 29:
Sometime bygane, whan folk war canny, And valued show far less than money.
wm.Sc. [1835–1837] Laird of Logan (1868) 441:
Of all the sons of canny Scotland, the canniest and most cautious are the inhabitants of Aberdeen. Scotchmen, in general, when they wish to purchase anything, content themselves with offering the half of what is wanted, but a real Aberdonian seldom offers above a fourth.
Gall. c.1870 J. Lewis in Bards of Gall. (ed. Harper 1889) 149:
Yes, John was laird o' a' the three, An' what's he noo? Hired for a cotman's canny fee To haud the pleugh!

6. Gentle, quiet, steady (Bnff.2, Abd.19, Ags.1, Fif.1, Slg.3, Lnl.1, Lnk.3, Kcb.9 1938). Abd.(D) 1916 G. Abel Wylins fae my Wallet 21:
I miss the canny joggin' o' the days fin I wis here.
m.Sc. 1926 “O. Douglas” Proper Place xx.:
In Scotland it means gentle — “Canny wee thing.”
Per. 1762 in T. L. K. Oliphant Jacobite Lairds of Gask (1870) 331:
In the mean time let him sit straight and turn in his toes, and if the horse is canny, trotting up and down without stirops will; give him a firm seat.
Hdg. 1896 J. Lumsden Battle of Dunbar, etc. 125:
A cannier beast does no' survive him — He loot our wee'st callant drive him.

7. Pleasant; good, kind (Bnff.2, Abd.9, Ags.1, Fif.10, Lnl.1 1938). A gen. term of approbation. Sc. 1724–1727 Ramsay T. T. Misc. (1733) 66:
A canny, saft and flow'ry den, Which circling birks have form'd a bower.
Ags. 1927 V. Jacob Northern Lights 3:
We'll slip alang tae whaur ye ken Afore this cannie gloamin' passes.
Lnk. 1838 McIlwham Papers (ed. J. Morrison) Preface p.v.:
She's a canny an' a kinly creature.
Dmf. 1795 Stat. Acc.1 XIV. 429:
The word canny is much in use here, as well as on the other side the border, and denotes praise. A canny person, or thing; a good sort of person.

8. Comfortable, easy (Bnff.2, Abd.2, Fif.1, Slg.3, Lnl.1 1938). Sc. 1816 Scott Antiquary (1818) xi.:
It's easy for your honour, and the like o' you gentlefolks, to say sae, that hae . . . meat and claith, and sit dry and canny by the fire-side.
Ags. 1822 A. Balfour Farmers' Three Daughters I. xi.:
Will education had you warm in your bed, or canny at your ain fireside?
Ags.17 1938:
“He's aff his canny seat,” used of one who has unexpectedly been forced to work harder than usual.
m.Sc. 1838 A. Rodger Poems, etc. 249:
Gane are our bits o' canny jobs, By whilk we used to line our fobs.

II. adv. Gently, carefully, quietly, skilfully. Jam.6 says: “the adverbial use of this word is very common in the West of Scotland, and its applications are exceedingly varied,” as in the adj. Also used with imperative force. Gen.Sc. Sc. 1816 Scott Antiquary (1818) vii.:
There — that will do! — canny now, lad, — canny now.
Sc. 1832 A. Henderson Sc. Proverbs 6:
Canny stretch, soon reach.
Crm. 1933 D. A. Mackenzie Stroopie Well 5:
The wudden stroopie's on the dreep, I leave the pailie hinging canny.
Abd. 1790 A. Shirrefs Poems 266:
Wha did her jobs sae freely canny, That mony ane laments poor Nanny.
Kcb. 1885 A. J. Armstrong Friend and Foe xix.:
He gangs canny eneuch to his waddin an' wake.

III. Phrase: to ca' canny. See Ca' Canny.

IV. Combs.: ‡(1) cannyca', canneca, “the woodworm; apparently denominated from the softness of the sound emitted by it, q[uasi] what caws or drives cannily” (Fif. 1825 Jam.2; 1916 T.S.D.C. II., canneca, obsol.); (2) canny (cannie) moment, — mament, the moment of child-birth; “the designation given to the time of fortunate child-bearing; otherwise called the happy hour; in Angus, canny mament” (Sc. 1825 Jam.2; Abd.22, Fif.10 1938); (3) canny-Nanny, “a species of yellow stingless bumble-bee” (Rxb. 1923 Watson W.-B. 78); (4) canny-wife, cannie —, a midwife (Abd.19, Fif.10 1938). (2) Sc. 1815 Scott Guy M. (1817) i.:
Ye'll be come in the canny moment, I'm thinking, for the laird's servant . . . rade express by this e'en to fetch the houdie.
Gall. 1745 in J. Douglas Book of Galloway (1882) 6:
At the cannie moment he was born.
(4) Abd. c.1746 W. Forbes Dominie Deposed (1800) 11:
The canny wives came there conveen'd All in a whirl.
Ags. 1819 A. Balfour Campbell I. ii.:
Weel, sister, I'm glad to see you sae weel recovered; wha was your canny-wife?
Dmf. 1810 R. H. Cromek Rem. Nithsd. and Gall. Song 61:
Kimmer wasna bidden whan the cannie wives gade.

[O.Sc. canny, cannie, adj., (1) free from risk, safe (earliest date 1592), (2) sagacious, cautious, prudent, (3) lucky, pleasant. Of obscure origin (D.O.S.T.). Apparently from Can, n.2, knowledge, skill, + -y. Cf. Norw. kunnig, knowing, skilful (Falk and Torp), O.N. kunnigr, versed in magic art (Zoëga).]

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"Canny adj., adv.". Dictionary of the Scots Language. 2004. Scottish Language Dictionaries Ltd. Accessed 22 Jan 2022 <>



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