cyn·​i·​cal ˈsi-ni-kəl How to pronounce cynical (audio)
: having or showing the attitude or temper of a cynic: such as
: contemptuously distrustful of human nature and motives
… those cynical men who say that democracy cannot be honest and efficient.Franklin D. Roosevelt
: based on or reflecting a belief that human conduct is motivated primarily by self-interest
a cynical ploy to win votes
cynically adverb

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Out of the Kennel: The History of Cynical

Cynical has a certain amount of dog in its ancestry, although not in the way that you might think. In ancient Greece, the followers of the philosopher Antisthenes were referred to as kynikos (“doglike”); when cynical was first used in English, it often was in reference to this group of philosophers.

A number of other English words have a canine history as well: harass can be traced to a word in Middle French (harer) meaning “to set a dog on;” sarcasm comes from a Greek word (sarkazein) which means “to tear flesh like dogs;” and even the word for a completely different animal, the canary, comes from a word for dog (the explanation for this seeming incongruity is that the bird comes from the Canary Islands, the name of which comes from the Latin for “dog islands,” Canariae insulae).

Choose the Right Synonym for cynical

cynical, misanthropic, pessimistic mean deeply distrustful.

cynical implies having a sneering disbelief in sincerity or integrity.

cynical about politicians' motives

misanthropic suggests a rooted distrust and dislike of human beings and their society.

a solitary and misanthropic artist

pessimistic implies having a gloomy, distrustful view of life.

pessimistic about the future

Examples of cynical in a Sentence

… if more and more people out there are willing to kill themselves in order to kill us, we've got to give the poor and cynical of the world something positive to believe in. Robert Reich, Prospect, February 2003
When "Roots" premiered on the ABC network in 1977, my generation of black academics and activists was cynical and outraged. We felt the horrors of slavery were rendered flat and lifeless by the miniseries … Houston A. Baker, Jr., Vibe, February 2002
It was fear of the Other, the poor, the dying—or to evoke a word with biblical authority—the pestilential. And so I could no longer be cynical about her motives. Bharati Mukherjee, Time, 14 June 1999
… was quiet spoken, but he had a cynical arch to his brows, as though he were repressing an urge to sneer. Joseph Wambaugh, The Blooding, 1989
Cynical people say there is no such thing as true love. People are so cynical nowadays. She's become more cynical in her old age. Some people regard the governor's visit to the hospital as a cynical attempt to win votes. See More
Recent Examples on the Web But the bigger issue is the show’s fundamentally cynical stance toward its participants. Angie Han, The Hollywood Reporter, 21 Nov. 2023 For Israelis, the raid of Gaza’s largest hospital is a symbol of Hamas’s cynical use of civilian facilities. Adam Taylor, Washington Post, 16 Nov. 2023 His cynical belief that ethical standards are just weapons in the propaganda war is being vindicated. Fintan O’Toole, The New York Review of Books, 14 Nov. 2023 The study revealed that post-Soviet society is very pragmatic, if not cynical. Foreign Affairs, 10 Nov. 2023 As in Watch Night, two brothers circle each other at the center of Translations, one nonchalantly cynical and forward-looking, the other serious, earnest, and devoted to preserving a deep ancestral identity. Sara Holdren, Vulture, 8 Nov. 2023 The prosperity gospel might sound as old-fashioned—and feel as familiar—as a preacher in a three-piece suit, but a new and cynical version is making a comeback across ministries both old and new; among people who go to church and those who get their faith online. Elle Hardy, The New Republic, 23 Oct. 2023 Some cynical politicians do not seem to believe in the miracle of America. Alex Gurley, Peoplemag, 10 Nov. 2023 Hornbeck, a choral figure in the play, talks like old Hollywood’s idea of a cynical reporter. Charles McNulty, Los Angeles Times, 7 Nov. 2023 See More

These examples are programmatically compiled from various online sources to illustrate current usage of the word 'cynical.' Any opinions expressed in the examples do not represent those of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback about these examples.

Word History


see cynic

First Known Use

1542, in the meaning defined at sense 2

Time Traveler
The first known use of cynical was in 1542

Dictionary Entries Near cynical

Cite this Entry

“Cynical.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 5 Dec. 2023.

Kids Definition


cyn·​i·​cal ˈsin-i-kəl How to pronounce cynical (audio)
: having the attitude of a cynic : not trusting human nature
cynically adverb

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