pawky /PAW-kee/. adjective. Shrewd, cunning, canny. In Scottish dialect: haughty, insolent. From northern English dialect pawk (trick).
“She was at her triturations. Spooning to death in a salver a speckled slug, marked like an ocelot, viscous and sticky. A whitish paste. Crooning a low threnody to her pawky trade.” (Cormac McCarthy)
“Though he is not known as a satirist, his Blood Meridian, about a ruthless band of bounty hunters looking for Indian scalps in Texas in the 1850s, can be read at least in part as a bloody pasquinade on the heroic literature of westward expansion. A pawky gallows humor is a reliable if underappreciated element in much of McCarthy’s work…” (Michael Chabon, from Maps and Legends)
“In this milieu, you suddenly see the urgent meaning of that phrase about everybody needing a good laugh. The Algonquin Round Table could never have been so remorselessly pawky.” (Martin Amis)
“He went on in his pawky way trying to make clear to her his mystical faith in these men who went ragged and hungry because they had chosen once for all between what he called in all seriousness their souls, and this world.” (Katherine Anne Porter)
“It was in such situations that Neil had most admired Munro’s tact. He had often been slyly amused to see with what a pawky and yet tender cunning he appeased her feminine tantrums.” (W. Somerset Maugham, from “Neil MacAdam”)
“At the back of the auditorium a man walks out. Professor McGovern, uniquely, in Toby’s experience of her, seems completely frozen, uncertain as to what to do next. J J is trying to appear amused as if in the hope that this will yet prove to be a jest, some pawky piece of academic humour.” (Julian Barnes, from Cannonbridge)
“If you call it cunning,” I said, “to play one member of your staff against another. For my part, I would call it knavery.”
“Good generalship,” he said.
“Gerrymandering,” I answered.
“A ruse de guerre,” he countered.
“Pawky politics,” I argued.
(Daphne Du Maurier, from The King’s General)
Select Synonyms: shrewd, cunning, perspicacious, sagacious, clever, sharp, argute.