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I think both words mean a sort of crevice or corner. Presumably there must be some significant difference.

The words are almost always used together:

e.g.

She searched in every nook and cranny

Presumably they can be used separately. I think I may have heard "nook" on its own, but never "cranny".

Interestingly the N-gram seems to suggest "nook" is more commonly used than "cranny".

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Many U.S. readers over 40, upon hearing the term "nooks & crannies," will immediately be reminded of an old tagline for Thomas' English muffins: with lots of nooks and crannies to hold the melted butter. Until today, I thought that phrase was mere adspeak; I didn't realize it was a closely guarded trade secret. –  J.R. Jun 18 '12 at 14:50
    
It reminds me of the line: "Oh, I love every part of you, every nook and cranny. Oh, especially your cranny". I believe it's from "third rock from the sun". –  Urbycoz Jun 19 '12 at 8:19
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2 Answers 2

up vote 11 down vote accepted

In the OED’s definitions, nook seems to have the meaning of some kind of corner, whereas a cranny is some kind of opening or crack. Together they cover a range of possible places in which a thorough search might be conducted. I think either on its own would be rare in current English.

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Curious how some phrases survive while their component words don't. I can also think of "flotsam and jetsom" as another example. –  Urbycoz Jun 18 '12 at 9:50
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"Nook" survives by itself in phrases like "breakfast nook". I wouldn't have breakfast in a cranny. –  Dietrich Epp Jun 18 '12 at 11:10
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From which we get the spoonerism, “crooks and nannies”. –  tchrist Jun 18 '12 at 11:51
    
“Nook” survives also as the market name for an ebook device. Can it be said that this meaning is being used? –  Agos Jun 18 '12 at 13:39
    
I guess a "breakfast cranny" is like a "breakfast nook" only much smaller... –  GEdgar Jun 18 '12 at 14:01
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1)A "nook" is a corner or a small, partially enclosed area of a larger room. A "cranny" is a crack or a crevice.

2)A nook is a sheltered and secluded place.

3)A nook is a recess esp. one offering seclusion or security. A cranny is a small narrow space or opening.

4)A nook is a small corner of a house, or a secluded spot. A cranny is a crack or hole in something

5)A nooks are high, crannys are low. A cranny is a a long narrow depression in a surface.

6)A nook is in. A cranny is out.

The phrase 'every little nook and cranny' means every part or aspect of something.

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Now that I've read #6, I might try using this terminology when discussing bellybuttons, as in: "What about your navel? Do you have a nook or a cranny?" –  J.R. Jun 19 '12 at 0:49
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