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cyn· ic

  • A person who believes all people are motivated by selfishness.
  • A person whose outlook is scornfully and often habitually negative.
  • Cynic A member of a sect of ancient Greek philosophers who believed virtue to be the only good and self-control to be the only means of achieving virtue.

Word History:

A cynic may be pardoned for thinking that this is a dog's life. The Greek word kunikos, from which cynic comes, was originally an adjective meaning "doglike," from kuon, "dog." The word was probably applied to the Cynic philosophers because of the nickname kuon given to Diogenes of Sinope, the prototypical Cynic. He is reported to have been seen barking in public, urinating on the leg of a table, and masturbating on the street.

The first use of the word recorded in English, in a work published from 1547 to 1564, is in the plural for members of this philosophical sect. In 1596 we find the first instance of cynic meaning "faultfinder", a sense that was to develop into our modern sense. The meaning "faultfinder" came naturally from the behavior of countless Cynics who in their pursuit of virtue pointed out the flaws in others. Such faultfinding could lead quite naturally to the belief associated with cynics of today that selfishness determines human behavior.

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