The word "cynic" comes from the ancient Greek word "kynikos" (or "kunikos" or the closest, "kynos"), meaning "canine" (or more to the point, "dog-like") - and yet this philosophy is not best known for the propensity of its adherents to sniff each others' butts and roll around on stanky carcasses. What's the deal? Read on, MacDuff...

Aristotle, a contemporary of Antisthenes and Diogenes (the founder and most famous member of the Cynic school of philosophy, respectively), justified the label as follows:

To say nothing of the nuttery of the third reason (their tenets fairly dripping from their actions for anyone half-adept at reading the context of their constant arcane and ironic pronouncements), we know that Aristotle was not entirely opposed to making things up on occasion to sound smarter than he really was, and so we seek a few other possible reasons for the original application of this tenacious appellation.

One account has it that the philosophers derived the name from the location where Antisthenes taught, a Gymnasium in Athens called Cynosarges (translated, "white dog"), itself bearing that odd name after a wacky incident early on there when a white dog stole a choice cut from a sacrifice to Hercules. This explanation lacks the arbitrariness of Aristotle's fucking smug pronouncement but itself carries a certain indifference I can't stand - there being no value judgements associated here with being said to centre around a particular building in the city - and so I continue the search for a satisfactorily subjective yet just explanation of the association between the word and the group.

As an individual, Diogenes was singularly referred to not merely as a Cynic, but more directly as the dog. The metaphor would have had the same negative connotations as it does today, but he embraced it and truly made it his own, as evident from the following (wholly apocryphal) anecdotes:

    * In response to Plato boldly calling him a dog to his face, he agreed, saying that it was "Quite true, for I come back again and again to those who have tried to give me away."

    * When asked what kind of dog he was, he said "When hungry, a Maltese; when full, a Molossian - two breeds which most people praise, though for fear of fatigue they do not venture out hunting with them."

    * Interrupted from his breakfast in the middle of the busy public marketplace, sniggering onlookers taunted him with calls him of "dog!" "It is you who are dogs," cried he, "when you stand round and watch me at my breakfast."

    * While at a feast, obnoxious party guests kept throwing their bones to "the dog." Fed up with greasy lamb ribs being constantly tossed his way, he sidled up and lifted his leg on them.

Though perhaps on the flimsiest basis of all, I ignore Aristotle's retroactive arbitration and the passive locale and instead choose as my own favourite version of the origin of the term then Cynic as a label applied not necessarily to those who behave like dogs but those of philosophies and demeanours similar to The Dog, Diogenes, voluntarily and even enthusiastically adopting a derogatory nickname to ward off the proud plague of hubris.

"A cynic is what an optimist calls a realist."

Why do I say this? Well, take a look at what an optimist is. An optimist looks for the good in all things, or try to look on the bright side. In real life, this doesn't work awfully well.

Why not? Well, not everything has a bright side. Does HIV/AIDS have a bright side? Only if you're Fred Phelps waving around a sign that says AIDS KILLS FAGS DEAD. How about sweatshops? The only optimists there want the shoes and soccer balls made cheap, and are more than happy to pay some kid 10 cents a week to work. Capitalism really worked wonders for that kid, eh? I bet he's not doing radio ads for Hooked On Globalism. You won't hear his cute voice saying "WTO worked for me!" Drug addiction treatment? For the average person, it's like Sam Kinison said, if you're able to afford drug treatment, you really don't have a problem yet.

I prefer to be a realist, that is, someone who subscribes to realism. I try to look at things as they are, seeing the good or the bad, but not necessarly trying to find either one in everything.

However, a true cynic would find bad in all things, no matter how good most people would believe something to be. A realist is generally be able they see it. Hitting the Powerball jackpot? A cynic would probably complain about how many people are going to ask them for money. Personally, I'd be overjoyed, and I figure for that much money, I'd be more than happy to deal with it.

Of course, one is bound to be more vocal about what they find to be bad. This is how realists can seem cynical to an optimist.


Emerging from the fertile Florida death metal scene of the early nineties (Death and Morbid Angel are among the other notables of this movement), Cynic were renowned in underground circles for their unique and organic blend of intense death metal and warm, progressive jazz fusion. Cynic brought this seemingly paradoxical mixture to creative and virtuosic heights rarely attained by any groups in jazz or rock, smashing the constraints of genre to create unparalleled and groundbreaking work. After recording only one proper album (1993's superb Focus), they dissolved into the obscurity of session work. The shockwaves of their legacy still ripple through the modern death metal scene; today's crop of mindshredding death/fusion bands, typified by the Dillinger Escape Plan, walk much of their path directly over Cynic's scorched and enigmatic footprints.

Lyrically, Cynic proved every bit as mind-expanding and unpredictable as their instrumentation. Although their early demos were fraught with death metal cliches and critiques of social ills, they began to take inspiration from Eastern philosophical thought as their vision widened. Songs like Veil of Maya (Veil of Maya / Balance every joy with a grief / Dual scales of Maya / Earth's unending law of polarity) brought an aspect of mellowness and scope unprecedented in death metal, with a hint of prog-rock nerdom to tie it all together.

(Most of the following information comes from Jeff Litvak's excellent Cynic website at


Guitarist Paul Masvidal and drummer Sean Reinert would form Cynic in 1987, and remain the group's essence until its eventual breakup. At this time they were far from their eventual mission statement, focusing on ferocious death metal (influenced by bands like Venom, Posessed and Kreator) alone; although instrumental agility was plain from their earliest demos, the genre-mingling group interplay that would become their trademark was nowhere to be found. Adding bassist Mark van Erp (later of Monstrosity) and friend Jack Kelly on vocals, they recorded a self-titled demo in 1988.

Jack Kelly left in 1988, prompting the first of many lineup changes. Paul Masvidal took on vocal duties, and Jason Gobel was brought in as second guitarist. Their second demo, Reflections of a Dying World, incorporated thrash and even punk elements; as well, their influences widened here, as they began to turn away from their brutal death contemporaries and towards jazz and fusion artists such as Weather Report, Frank Zappa and Chick Corea. This newfound sensibility was reflected in a leap in technical prowess, which would only become more pronounced later.

Mark van Erp soon left the band, to be replaced by Tony Choy (later of Atheist and various Latin fusion groups). They recorded a third demo, self-titled as well, in 1990. As they aggressively toured the Florida area, acclaim began to spread through underground circles, and they were approached by Roadrunner Records (notable for Type O Negative, Sepultura, Obituary and Deicide, among others) in 1991.

At this time, their sound had crystallized into an extremely technical and listenable blend of progressive and death metal, although they didn't consider themselves a death band as such. Roadrunner financed a fourth and final (self-titled) demo; for the first time, their unique qualities were absolutely distinct. Two of the three songs on this demo would end up, in altered states, on their LP Focus.


Rather than immediately record a full-fledged album, the group honed their skills with session work for other Roadrunner musicians. Paul Masvidal and Sean Reinert played with Death mastermind Chuck Schuldinger on his LP Human (1991), also contributing their songwriting skills to this spine-splinteringly classic album. Tony Choy worked with Atheist and Pestilence, and Jason Gobel played lead on Monstrocity's Imperial Doom LP. This session work heightened their popularity remarkably, prompting Roadrunner to call them "the most popular underground act to never record an album".

For unknown reasons, their plan to record a full-length record immediately after working with Death fell through. Instead, Paul Masvidal and Sean Reinert accompanied Death's European tour for the rest of 1991. They attempted to record an album in October 1992, but that plan was cancelled when Hurricane Andrew destroyed their rehearsal space (Jason Gobel's house). Their plans were scrambled once more when Tony Choy left to play bass with Atheist full-time. After numberous bassists, they settled on Sean Malone, an employee of the studio where they had recorded their demos.

Focus was finally recorded with the lineup of Paul Masvidal, Sean Reinert, Jason Gobel and Sean Malone, and released on September 14th, 1993. This seminal album showed the effects of two years' creative simmering, and synthesized wildly disparate elements into something profoundly new. Sadly, this would be the high-water mark for this promising band.

Cynic next toured Europe supporting Pestilence, with the addition of singer Tony Teegarden, who had previously growled the death vocals on Focus when Paul Masvidal was in danger of losing his voice. Although Masvidal continued to sing the vocoded "celestial" parts, a second singer was necessary for their live vocal duets. As well, Teegarden played the keyboard parts, which Sean Reinert was far too busy on drums to take care of. The tour was cut short when Pestilence disbanded.

On their return to North America, they toured the United States in the summer of 1994, supporting Cannibal Corpse. This time, Dana Casley of locals Demonocracy provided death vocals and keyboard accents. Because of an unknown conflict with their record label, they had to cancel a planned appearance at the Milwaukee Metalfest.

They began recording a second album in the fall of 1994; before long, Sean Malone left, citing creative differences. The unnamed second album was still incomplete when Cynic finally disbanded, unable to reach a consensus on any new musical direction.


Jason Gobel, Paul Masvidal and Sean Reinert soon got back together, forming Portal with on-again, off-again Cynic bassist Chris Kringel and singer/keyboardist Aruna Abrams. They recorded a self-titled demo in 1995, which went absolutely nowhere.

To this day, Cynic's members remain friends; Sean Malone and Sean Reinert have worked together on numberous projects. They played on self-titled albums for Aghora (2000) and Anomaly (1998), as well as on the prog-metal supergroup Gordian Knot's eponymous debut (1999) and Emergent (2003). The track A Shaman's Whisper on Emergent marked the first time since 1994 that all four members of Focus-era Cynic have appeared together on an album.


Focus (September 14, 1993)

1. Veil Of Maya
2. Celestial Voyage
3. The Eagle Nature
4. Sentiment
5. I'm But A Wave To...
6. Uroboric Forms
7. Textures
8. How Could I?

Paul Masvidal - Guitar, Vocals
Jason Gobel - Guitar
Sean Malone - Bass
Sean Reinert - Drums
Tony Teegarden - Vocals, Keyboards


Cynic (1988)

1. Weak Reasoning
2. Once Misguided
3. Dwellers Of The Threshold

Jack Kelly - Vocals
Paul Masvidal - Guitar
Mark Van Erp - Bass
Sean Reinert - Drums

Reflections of a Dying World (1989)
1. Denaturalizing Leaders
2. Extremes
3. A Life Astray
4. Agitating Affliction

Paul Masvidal - Guitar, Vocals
Jason Gobel - Guitar
Mark Van Erp - Bass
Sean Reinert - Drums

Cynic (1990)

1. Lifeless Irony
2. Thinking Being
3. Cruel Gentility

Paul Masvidal - Guitar, Vocals
Jason Gobel - Guitar
Tony Choy - Bass
Sean Reinert - Drums

Cynic (1991)
1.) Uroboric Forms*
2.) The Eagle Nature
3.) Pleading For Preservation

Paul Masvidal - Guitar, Vocals
Jason Gobel - Guitar
Tony Choy - Bass
Sean Reinert - Drums

*This version of Uroboric Forms also appeared on the Roadrunner Records compilation At Death's Door II, marking the first appearance of Cynic material on CD.

Cyn"ic (s?n"?k), Cyn"ic*al (-?-kal), a. [L. cynicus of the sect of Cynics, fr. Gr. , prop., dog-like, fr. , , dog. See Hound.]


Having the qualities of a surly dog; snarling; captious; currish.

I hope it is no very cynical asperity not to confess obligations where no benefit has been received. Johnson.


Pertaining to the Dog Star; as, the cynic, or Sothic, year; cynic cycle.


Belonging to the sect of philosophers called cynics; having the qualities of a cynic; pertaining to, or resembling, the doctrines of the cynics.


Given to sneering at rectitude and the conduct of life by moral principles; disbelieving in the reality of any human purposes which are not suggested or directed by self-interest or self-indulgence; as, a cynical man who scoffs at pretensions of integrity; characterized by such opinions; as, cynical views of human nature.

⇒ In prose, cynical is used rather than cynic, in the senses 1 and 4.

Cynic spasm Med., a convulsive contraction of the muscles of one side of the face, producing a sort of grin, suggesting certain movements in the upper lip of a dog.


© Webster 1913.

Cyn"ic, n. Gr. Philos


One of a sect or school of philosophers founded by Antisthenes, and of whom Diogenes was a disciple. The first Cynics were noted for austere lives and their scorn for social customs and current philosophical opinions. Hence the term Cynic symbolized, in the popular judgment, moroseness, and contempt for the views of others.


One who holds views resembling those of the Cynics; a snarler; a misanthrope; particularly, a person who believes that human conduct is directed, either consciously or unconsciously, wholly by self-interest or self-indulgence, and that appearances to the contrary are superficial and untrustworthy.

He could obtain from one morose cynic, whose opinion it was impossible to despise, scarcely any not acidulated with scorn. Macaulay.

© Webster 1913.

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