Word of the Day



strange and mysterious

Origin and usage

Uncanny has its origins in a word used in northern and Scottish English: ‘canny’ meaning smart or careful, preceded by the prefix ‘un’ which means ‘not’. Uncanny entered mainstream usage in the late 19th century, to refer to a situation that appears odd.


The word uncanny is an adjective used to describe something that feels strange and is difficult to explain. It may refer to an everyday occurrence, like a waiter who bears an uncanny resemblance to a film star. Alternatively, it may have supernatural overtones, especially if the uncanny situation is frightening or mysterious.

The term uncanny valley has emerged in recent years to discuss how humans react to lifelike robots. In particular, it refers to the unease people feel toward robots or computer generated images that are especially realistic. When an object looks like a human but is clearly not human, observers can experience an uncanny feeling of familiarity which they do not enjoy. It is thought that the emotional response people have to a human replica becomes less positive as the replica becomes more lifelike. Therefore, as an object comes closer to looking like a real human, it appears increasingly uncanny.


“It is an immense privilege, and it is incredible that humans manage to forget the miracle of being here. Rilke said, ‘Being here is so much,’ and it is uncanny how social reality can deaden and numb us so that the mystical wonder of our lives goes totally unnoticed. We are here. We are wildly and dangerously free.”

(John O’Donohue)

“His long career has been marked by his incredible ideological flexibility an uncanny ability to twist and bend with the political wind.”

(Sebastian Strangio)


weird, odd, strange

View the full definition in the Macmillan Dictionary.

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Macmillan Dictionary

Macmillan Dictionary

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