The word ‘Canny’ originated in Scotland some time around the middle of the seventeenth century and it is still widely used today, mainly in Scotland and the NE of England. From the original ‘can’, meaning know (commonly said in Scotland as ‘ken’ today as in ‘do you ken?’ or ‘do you know?’), the English suffix ‘–y’ was added to form the word we know today.
Whilst most people are familiar with the form and meaning of the word as used with it’s prefix un- as in uncanny, the word ‘canny’ itself has a variety of meanings according to the context in which it is used.
1. frugal, thrifty and intelligent, as in, for example ‘a canny housewife’: She changes her bank account regularly because she is a canny investor, always keen to get the best rates.
A canny negotiator, Brian managed to buy his car for less than the advertised price and he also came away with two years worth of free insurance.
2. shrewd, astute, knowing or wise as in, for example ‘a canny negotiator’: She was clearly a canny businesswoman as she knew how to negotiate the best prices from all of her trade suppliers.
3. careful, cautious or prudent, as in, for example ‘a canny purchase’: They are very canny with their money and always manage to buy quality furniture without paying over the odds.
4. nice, pleasing or attractive (especially in the NE of England) as in, for example, ‘a canny lad’: There weren’t many as good as her, she was a right canny lass.
5. cleverly: She negotiated the deal for her new house very cannily.
6. quite (esp. in Scotland and NE England): She kept me waiting for a canny long time.
Even though 'canny' is a Scottish word, the equivalent idea finds expression in other languages so for example:
When a canny Scotsman named Brian Smith invented his unique dog training collar, his wife was so impressed after seeing it work on a German Shepherd that she said it was ‘uncanny’ how quickly the dog had been brought under control. And so the Canny Collar was thus named. We like to think that all Canny dog training products incorporate the qualities described in the meanings above, marrying an astute idea with innovative design to produce a quality product.
In fact, we thought the Canny Collar was such a good name that we named our company after it! If etymology is your thing and you are interested in further definitions of the word ‘canny’, then here are some other sources that you can consult: