adjective cyn·i·cal \ˈsi-ni-kəl\

Definition of cynical

  1. 1 :  captious, peevish

  2. 2 :  having or showing the attitude or temper of a cynic : such asa :  contemptuously distrustful of human nature and motives … those cynical men who say that democracy cannot be honest and efficient. — Franklin D. Rooseveltb :  based on or reflecting a belief that human conduct is motivated primarily by self-interest a cynical ploy to win votes


play \-k(ə-)lē\ adverb

Examples of cynical in a sentence

  1. … 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

  2. 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

  3. 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

  4. … 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

  5. Cynical people say there is no such thing as true love.

  6. People are so cynical nowadays.

  7. She's become more cynical in her old age.

  8. Some people regard the governor's visit to the hospital as a cynical attempt to win votes.

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).

Origin and Etymology of cynical

see cynic

First Known Use: 1542

Synonym Discussion of 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.

CYNICAL Defined for English Language Learners


adjective cyn·i·cal \ˈsi-ni-kəl\

Definition of cynical for English Language Learners

  • : believing that people are generally selfish and dishonest

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

CYNICAL Defined for Kids


adjective cyn·i·cal \ˈsi-nə-kəl\

Definition of cynical for Students

  1. :  believing that people are selfish and dishonest

Seen and Heard

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a brief usually trivial fact

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