Contemptuously distrustful of human nature and motives. A cynic often displays a sneering disbelief in sincerity or integrity. This attitude is common in anyone who has observed human beings long enought to see what horrible creatures we all are. In fact, we cynics are always amazed that there are so many accursed optimists in the world.

In Ireland and Britain (at least), there is a usage of this word which is a weird mirror image of its actual meaning. It almost certainly came about as a misunderstanding of what cynicism means, but it is now quite commonly used by politicians and media correspondents. Essentially, it is the application of the adjective "cynical" to a person one views with cynicism, or to the deeds of such a person.


  • What is said: "Peter Mandelson's suspension of the Northern Ireland Assembly was a cynical move, designed to prop up the leadership of David Trimble."
  • What is meant: "I take a cynical view of Peter Mandelson's suspension of the Northern Ireland Assembly, as I believe it was a move designed to prop up the leadership of David Trimble".

In this way, the word cynical is used to describe persons whose good intentions are doubted, whereas it should properly be applied to the person who is doing the doubting. Thus, the word cynical takes on a new and recursive definition: "subject to a cynical interpretation".

Personally, I hate to see the word abused in such a fashion. Yes, I know, language is in a constant state of flux, and it could be argued that the intention of the speaker is quite clear in context, but something feels very wrong in hearing the word used in such a topsy-turvy way.

Interestingly enough, being cynical is often a far different thing, culturally, than being a cynic.

To be a cynic is, some have said, merely a realist who has not yet been proven right. It's a suspicous attitude which sees less than benevolent intentions and outcomes on all sides.

And, in fact, you can be the cynical curmudgeon and be quite respectable, and even useful at times.

But to be cynical is a crime, by all appearances. Perhaps Cynics themselves are not cynical, because they have not become anything, whereas for an ordinary joe to becoming cynical in outlook means a loss of hope in the universe.

We decry a cynical outlook. Cynicims isn't just pessimism, seeing the dark side of things, but in fact sees an outright indecency in people, looks for the conspiracy, the rot, the corruption in society which will bring us all tumbling down from our happy puppet play.

Perhaps what is most frightening, most terrible about the cynical outlook is that it's reflected deep inside each and every one of us who dares to actually truly look at the world around us...and we don't like what we see there, the possibilities which haunt us from the murky depths of "now".

We don't want reflections. We want rose colored glasses, we want the romantic action movie that we look into and see only the fantasy. Reflections cause us to see our peripheral, outlying barbarism, and make us question how steady the ground on which we stand truly is.

And the cynical nature, the cynical outlook, is a focued, intense expression of this occurence.

Being cynical is what a cynic does and is, generally, a trait increasing proportionally to experience gained in life.

"A cynic knows the price of everything and the value of nothing"
- Oscar Wilde

I personally find life easier to cope with when in a cynical mood, though slightly less fun.

Try it from time to time, just don't over-cultivate it - it is a disease hard to shake.

Cf. skeptical.

If, as you think about it, you decide it's not like you like this quote and decide to do the reverse of upvote this, please /msg me to explain why

Cyn"ic (s?n"?k), Cyn"ic*al (-?-kal), a. [L. cynicus of the sect of Cynics, fr. Gr. , prop., dog-like, fr. , , dog. See Hound.]


Having the qualities of a surly dog; snarling; captious; currish.

I hope it is no very cynical asperity not to confess obligations where no benefit has been received. Johnson.


Pertaining to the Dog Star; as, the cynic, or Sothic, year; cynic cycle.


Belonging to the sect of philosophers called cynics; having the qualities of a cynic; pertaining to, or resembling, the doctrines of the cynics.


Given to sneering at rectitude and the conduct of life by moral principles; disbelieving in the reality of any human purposes which are not suggested or directed by self-interest or self-indulgence; as, a cynical man who scoffs at pretensions of integrity; characterized by such opinions; as, cynical views of human nature.

⇒ In prose, cynical is used rather than cynic, in the senses 1 and 4.

Cynic spasm Med., a convulsive contraction of the muscles of one side of the face, producing a sort of grin, suggesting certain movements in the upper lip of a dog.


© Webster 1913.

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