by Paul Niquette
Copyright ©2007 by Paul Niquette.. All rights reserved.

canny adj. 1. Having or showing knowledge and skill in applying it; fully competent. {Not to be confused with clever, which is not always an attractive quality.} 2. Assiduous in the safekeeping and advancement of one’s interests {Selfish, approaching  cynical.}; shrewd.  3. Attentive to all factors and considerations; prudent. {In the extreme, risk-averse.}  4. Susceptible of human understanding; explicable; natural. {Possibly unnatural, as in sophisticated.}  5a. Pleasant, attractive. 5b Gentle; mild; steady. [From can (to know how, to be able) {Therefore opposite to can't-y}.]
-- The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language
{with author’s comments added in braces}

"Which reminds me: Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority made an exceptionally clever decision not to provide public restrooms. Uncanny!"

-- Paul Niquette in solution to Groaner of the Third Kind

The meanings for canny span all the way from competent (sense 1) through shrewd and prudent (senses 2 and 3) to the gentle realms owned by words like attractive and steady (sense 5).  Uncanny bumps into canny, not as an opposite (incompetent, for example) but at an oblique angle, with the meaning of keen and perceptive -- so much so as to seem preternatural, taking the usage of uncanny into unearthly territories occupied by eerie and weird.

  • Unearthly literally means so strange as to suggest something that is not of this world; in popular usage it is sometimes applied, like weird, to what is merely exceptionally odd or far fetched.
  • Eerie describes something that inspires fear, uneasiness, inspiring wonder that cannot be explained rationally and therefore suggesting the preternatural or sinister.
  • Weird means mysterious in the sense of occult; weird applies to what is bizarre, grotesque, eccentric, or markedly unconventional. Adolescent slang has appropriated weird alongside awesome to signify intense desirability -- a synonym for whatever the ubiquitous cool is supposed to mean (“That rock concert was so weird”).
The word uncanny also refers to what is extremely puzzling, as in the opening pun, which reports an inconvenient truth discovered by its author during an unforgettable journey below the streets of the nation's capital in 1995.

Worse cases: For dangerous results from opposite meanings for the same word, see oversight.

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