cyn·​i·​cal | \ ˈsi-ni-kəl How to pronounce cynical (audio) \

Definition of cynical

1 : having or showing the attitude or temper of a cynic: such as
a : contemptuously distrustful of human nature and motives … those cynical men who say that democracy cannot be honest and efficient.— Franklin D. Roosevelt
b : based on or reflecting a belief that human conduct is motivated primarily by self-interest a cynical ploy to win votes

Keep scrolling for more

Other Words from cynical

cynically \ ˈsi-​ni-​k(ə-​)lē How to pronounce cynically (audio) \ adverb

Synonyms & Antonyms for cynical



Visit the Thesaurus for More 

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

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).

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 Deeply cynical, bordering on nihilistic, the Mexican provocateur's incendiary revolution drama has a lot to say and says it in an unrelentingly grim way. Thomas Page, CNN, "TIFF 2020 kicks off a strange start to the Oscars race," 18 Sep. 2020 More recently, however, concerns about misinformation, disinformation, and worse have left many much more cynical. Rob Bernshteyn, Fortune, "The race for a COVID-19 vaccine shows the power of ‘community intelligence’," 9 Sep. 2020 Among the more cynical insiders, the only National League race worth following is for the No. 8 seed in the playoffs. Bruce Jenkins,, "Giants’ ‘race’ could be the only one worth following in a turbulent season," 1 Sep. 2020 That's one reason Solomon and Matheson struggled to get Face the Music made ten years ago, when the trends in American comedy were darker and more cynical. Jennifer Ouellette, Ars Technica, "Bill and Ted Face the Music," 28 Aug. 2020 However, as things just got more divided and more cynical, maybe in a way this became a better template against which the movie could open because the movie is totally uncynical. Brian Truitt, USA TODAY, "Party on, old dudes? Alex Winter, Keanu Reeves tackle middle age in 'Bill & Ted Face the Music'," 26 Aug. 2020 The more cynical Timberwolves fans, and there are many, may have had their brains inject a dose of sedative into the temporary euphoria of landing the No. 1 pick in the NBA’s draft lottery Thursday night. Chris Hine, Star Tribune, "Wolves' No. 1 pick: No obvious choice but definite value," 21 Aug. 2020 Merlin, inhuman and deeply cynical, is only in it for the power, which creatures like himself desire above all else. Vivian Shaw, Washington Post, "‘By Force Alone’ is an exciting and wickedly funny reimagining of the King Arthur legend," 21 Aug. 2020 That may be fine to more cynical observers who see Ohio State’s behemoth status and believe the league needs OSU more than OSU needs the Big Ten. Nathan Baird, cleveland, "Ohio State’s Ryan Day advocates Buckeyes making own schedule if Big Ten cancels football: Is ‘going rogue’ realistic?," 11 Aug. 2020

These example sentences are selected automatically from various online news sources to reflect current usage of the word 'cynical.' Views expressed in the examples do not represent the opinion of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback.

See More

First Known Use of cynical

1542, in the meaning defined at sense 2

History and Etymology for cynical

see cynic

Keep scrolling for more

Learn More about cynical

Time Traveler for cynical

Time Traveler

The first known use of cynical was in 1542

See more words from the same year

Statistics for cynical

Last Updated

29 Oct 2020

Cite this Entry

“Cynical.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 29 Oct. 2020.

Keep scrolling for more

More Definitions for cynical


How to pronounce cynical (audio)

English Language Learners Definition of cynical

: believing that people are generally selfish and dishonest
: selfish and dishonest in a way that shows no concern about treating other people fairly


cyn·​i·​cal | \ ˈsi-nə-kəl How to pronounce cynical (audio) \

Kids Definition of cynical

: believing that people are selfish and dishonest

Keep scrolling for more

Comments on cynical

What made you want to look up cynical? Please tell us where you read or heard it (including the quote, if possible).


Test Your Vocabulary

Here Be Dragons: A Creature Identification Quiz

  • monster werewolf photo
  • Which is a synonym of werewolf?
Spell It

Can you spell these 10 commonly misspelled words?

Add Diction

Test Your Knowledge - and learn some interesting things along the way.

Love words? Need even more definitions?

Subscribe to America's largest dictionary and get thousands more definitions and advanced search—ad free!