Merriam-Webster Word of the Day: Uncanny

The Merriam-Webster Word of the Day is uncanny. Read on for what it means, how it’s used, and more, including a video of Daryl Hall and Kenny Loggins singing the Hall & Oates song “It’s Uncanny” during an episode of Live at Daryl’s House. Enjoy!

What It Means

Uncanny is typically used to describe something that is strange or unusual in a way that is surprising or difficult to understand. It can also describe something that seems to have a supernatural character or origin.

// The child has an uncanny ability to recognize streets and locations she’s seen only once or twice before.

// The noise suddenly stopped, and an uncanny silence filled the room.

UNCANNY in Context

“Having reinvented contemporary circus as an aesthetically ambitious artform, the company here demonstrates … what can be achieved when uncanny acrobatic prowess meets the poised spatial intelligence of contemporary dance and the intensities of physical theatre.” — Andrew Fuhrmann, Cameron Woodhead, and Jessica Nicholas, The Age (Melbourne, Australia), 10 Apr. 2022

Did You Know?

Uncanny describes that which unsettles us, such as disquieting observations, or mysterious situations and circumstances. Strip the word of its common negating prefix, though, and you’re left with canny, a word that shares semantic territory with clever and prudent. While canny and uncanny don’t appear to be antonyms, they both come from an early Scottish word canny meaning “free from risk; wise, prudent, cautious.” And in Scottish, canny has for centuries had a secondary meaning that correlates better to its mysterious cousin: the Oxford English Dictionary reports that the word is used in negative constructions to describe what is not safe to be involved with, or more broadly, what is not in accordance with what is right or natural. Rather uncanny.

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