In all varieties of a language there are words which possess particular kinds of symbolic power or iconic status. In North East England, one such word is canny, the subject of an article published in the journal English Studies by Dr Michael Pearce. Although canny occurs in varieties of English around the world it is particularly associated with Scots and Scottish English. But it also has a long, well-attested history as a feature of dialect in North East England. Indeed, many people both within and beyond the region regard it as a lexical shibboleth. It is an epithet for the region’s major city (“Canny Newcastle”); it appears in the titles of traditional songs (“Hi Canny Man, Hoy a Ha’Penny Oot”), and even in the names of shops and businesses (“Canny Carpet Clean”). According to the Oxford English Dictionary, the word is not found before the seventeenth century, having apparently developed from the verb can (“to know how”, “be able”) and/or the derived Scots noun can (“skill, knowledge”). In the North East canny has acquired an extensive range of meanings. Michael's article outlines its northern English history, considers its significance as a cultural keyword and explores its usage in contemporary speech, literature and online discourse.
Michael Pearce (2013). "That word so fraught with meaning": The History, Cultural Significance and Current Use of Canny in North East England. English Studies. 94(5): 562-581.