• cynic •
si-nik • Hear it!
Part of Speech: Noun
Meaning: 1. A person who believes everyone is motivated by selfishness. 2. An embittered sceptic who contemptuously questions all things. 3. (Capitalized: Cynic) Someone who subscribes to an ancient Greek philosophy characterized by an outspoken contempt for wealth and the hedonism it offers. Cynics argued that only self-control can lead to virtue, which is the only good.
Notes: Today's is a Good Word that landed a long way from home (see Word History). It comes with an adjective cynical, which has an adverb, cynically. The noun is unexpected: cynicism.
In Play: Cynicism is an extreme form of skepticism: "I admire altruism and hate to be a cynic, but I remain deeply skeptical of any act of corporate generosity." The adjective may be used in the same sense: "Too many cynical politicians these days see entering politics as an economic decision."
Word History: English borrowed this word from French cynique, inherited from Latin Cynicus, borrowed from Greek kunikos "doglike", a word based on kuon "dog". This word was applied to the Cynic philosophers led by Antisthenes, a pupil of Socrates. Antisthenes taught in an athletic training center called Kunosarges, which wags saw as a derivation from kuon. Antisthenes's followers, who dogged him around Athens, were referred to as "dogs". Antisthenes's most avid student was Diogenes of Sinope, who accepted this nickname as an apt description of the ascetic life he led, stripped of all elements of wealth and social convention. Greek kuon came from PIE kuon- "dog", which became Hund "dog" in German, canis "dog" in Latin (hence the English borrowing canine), and hound in English. In the Balto-Slavic languages initial [k] became [s] before [r], [u], [k], and [i], so we see it in Lithuanian as šuo "dog, cur" and in Latvian as suns "dog". (Our long-time friend and mega-contributor Jackie Strauss suggested we look into today's Good Word with the fascinating origin.)
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