“Facts can be turned into art if one is artful enough” – Paul Simon

I wouldn’t have thought that carpenters, stonemasons or other craftsman had a predilection for cunning strategies or slyness. Yet both artful and crafty, with their sly implications, used to mean talented and skilful. Now they are more often used to describe weaselly or machiavellian shiftiness. This is the way words change over the years.

Artful used to mean ‘well-versed in the arts’ or ‘skilfully made’, before becoming ‘cunning’ (as in Dickens’ Artful Dodger). Artifice was ‘workmanship’ but has developed into ‘crafty or subtle deception’. Artificial originally meant ‘made by art’ as opposed to being natural, such as artificial light instead of sunlight. Now it has a more negative connotation, often referring to a fake version of a natural product, such as artificial sweetener instead of sugar. An artefact is ‘a product of human art’ and an artisan is a skilled worker who makes things by hand.

Crafty had a similar slide from ‘skilfully made’ to ‘cunning’ or ‘clever at deceiving people’. Craft has several meanings – the skill needed to make things by hand, the product itself (usually plural), a boat, ship or plane, skill in deceiving people, or the occupation or trade of a particular line of work. A craftsman is a skilled worker, though not necessarily crafty.

Other synonyms for crafty are wily, devious, guileful and duplicitous. Some say that crossword compilers must be devious – perhaps that’s true but then the solvers are equally crafty, working out the wily clues.

Happy Puzzling!