cynic, n. A man who, when he smells flowers, looks around for a coffin.


Thank Gawd for cynical people, whose anchor in hard-won reality keep starry-eyed idealist from causing real trouble.

America is awash in cynics, a byproduct of American pioneer upbringing and a perpetual slate of candidates that provide cynics fresh meat (as if they needed more, those intellectual gluttons). Yet even among cynics, some are held in awe for their acerbic observations and verbal eviscerations. Cynics elevate them to divine heights, though real cynics see that as a profit making ploy.


H. L. Mencken
Dorothy Parker
Ambrose Bierce
Guy Smith
H. L. Mencken

H.L. Mencken - a cynical fellowH. L. (Henry Louis) Mencken was a newspaperman wordsmith with prose as accurate and deadly as sniper fire. Reading Mencken today shows that politicians, wars and religion have not changed:

"Every election is a sort of advance auction sale of stolen goods."

"He marries best who puts it off until it is too late."

"Puritanism - The haunting fear that someone, somewhere may be happy."

H. L. (Henry Louis) Mencken was a newspaperman wordsmith with prose as accurate and deadly as sniper fire. Reading Mencken today shows that politicians, wars and religion never really change, and receive all the respect they deserve (none).

Mencken was the voice of Baltimore during the overtly wicked times of the early 20th century. He was a gifted writer and reporter, who survived his entire life in Baltimore – if you can call that surviving – working for both the Baltimore Herald and Sun. This proves that journalists have as little loyalty as the politicians they discover in no-tell motels.

His work at the Herald city desk cemented his cynical foundation. Baltimore was widely considered a corrupt city, unlike today where it is known to be a corrupt city. In Mencken's day, local politicians were little more than talented pick-pockets and from external appearances, their descendants are keeping the family business alive.

Mencken's cynicism may have reached its apex during the infamous Scopes Money Trial. The Sun sent Mencken to cover an event that was equal parts religious fervor, grandstanding politics and open air circus, a vein of literary ore that made Mencken's mind melt. The court case, where a school teacher was being prosecuted for teaching Darwinian evolution, and local religious fundamentalism caused Mencken to call Tennessee a "sort of Holy Land for imbeciles." This might have been the most polite reference Mencken made during the entire trial (For the cinema buffs, the Scopes Monkey trial was made into Spencer Tracy's Inherit the Wind, where Mencken was portrayed by Gene Kelly and his character was called "E. K. Hornbeck").

Mencken was, if nothing else, evenhanded – he derided everyone including himself, as witnessed from this excerpt from his essay "In Defense of Women":

"As a professional critic of life and letters, my principal business in the world is that of manufacturing platitudes for tomorrow, which is to say, ideas so novel that they will be instantly rejected as insane and outrageous by all right thinking men, and so apposite and sound that they will eventually conquer that instinctive opposition, and force themselves into the traditional wisdom of the race. I hope I need not confess that a large part of my stock in trade consists of platitudes rescued from the cobwebbed shelves of yesterday, with new labels stuck rakishly upon them."

Cynical Mencken Quotations


Once a woman passes a certain point in intelligence it is almost impossible to get a husband: she simply cannot go on listening [to men] without snickering.

In Europe, aristocracy is founded upon land. In the United States, it is founded upon real estate.

Here is something that the psychologists have so far neglected: the love of ugliness for its own sake, the lust to make the world intolerable. Its habitat is the United States.

It is inaccurate to say that I hate everything. I am strongly in favor of common sense, common honesty, and common decency. This makes me forever ineligible for public office.

Faith may be defined briefly as an illogical belief in the occurrence of the improbable.

Under democracy one party always devotes its chief energies to trying to prove that the other party is unfit to rule – and both commonly succeed, and are right.

Bachelors know more about women than married men; if they didn't they'd be married too.

Slang is a deliberate invention by professional smart-aleks, college boys, reporters, newspaper men, and other dubious characters.

Democracy is the worship of jackals by jackasses.

Dorothy Parker

Dorothy Parker - cynical gal

Alexander Woollcott called her an odd "combination of Little Nell and Lady Macbeth." She possessed a tongue sharper than any man's wit, and used it routinely to dissect societies brightest and dimmest.

"Horticulture: You can lead a whore to culture but you can't make her think."

"If all the girls in attendance [at the Yale prom] were laid end to end, I wouldn't be at all surprised."

"Look at him, a rhinestone in the rough.

Where as Ambrose Bierce drew strength from the misery and perils of life, mainly of others, Dorothy (not "Dorthy") Parker allowed herself to indulge in personal misery while skewering writers, playwrights and high society (seriously, how could she avoid lancing the upper crust of inanity). What made Parker special was the twisted combination of a polite and personable woman with a wit designed for evisceration, a pen dipped in blood, and a tongue that worked best when unleashed.

In the early part of the 20th century, Parker wrote for such bastions of literary distinction as Vogue and Vanity Fair. Work as a word slave ended abruptly when Vanity Fair fired her for her endlessly acerbic prose (how they missed it to begin with remains a mystery). She launched a freelance career and shortly penned her first book titled Enough Rope, which showed her feisty side as well as more conventional verse.

Most compelling were her cynical associations. Parker became a founding member of the Algonquin Round Table (for those not familiar with this group, it was a motley gathering of the literary, illuminati and comics that met at the Algonquin Hotel and blistered the world with their communal communications). She traded barbs with the likes of Robert Benchley, Alexander Woollcott and Harpo Marx. Many of those cunning conversations found their way into the pages of the New Yorker, which  furthered her infamy.

Later turns in life caused her to become a Hollywood screenwriter and a reporter covering the Spanish Civil War (though the two are almost indistinguishable from their common politics, casualties and general chaos).

What makes Parker charming – in a frightening fashion – was her role as a viciously intelligent gal in the early 20th century. At a time when women were barely more that possessions, Parker not only embraced a clearer picture of her life, but a clearer picture of life around her .. every cynical inch of it.

Cynical Dorothy Parker Quotations


This is not a novel to be tossed aside lightly. It should be thrown aside with great force.

If you want to know what God thinks of money, just look at the people he gave it to.

You can lead a whore to culture but you can't make her think.

You know, that woman speaks 18 languages, and she can't say 'no' in any of them.

Take care of the luxuries and the necessities will take care of themselves.

All I need is a place to lay my hat, and a few friends.

If all the girls in attendance [at the Yale prom] were laid end to end, I wouldn't be at all surprised.

Brevity is the soul of lingerie.

Look at him, a rhinestone in the rough.

Ambrose Bierce

Ambrose Bierce - the devil is in his dictionaryWriter, columnist, civil war veteran, and the original Cynical Lexicographer via his infamous Devil's Dictionary (heavily updated for the modern tongue here at the Cynical Web Site). Could his residency in San Francisco been more of a cause of his cynicism than his war experience?

"An egotist is a person of low taste-more interested in himself than in me."

"Politics: A strife of interests masquerading as a contest of principles."

"Death is not the end. There remains the litigation over the estate."

Cynicism seems to march alongside writers and soldiers, so it is no surprise that one of our most cynical heroes was both. But when you and your 12 siblings are all given names beginning with the letter 'A', you tend to see the absurdity of all things .

Ambrose Gwinett Bierce (1842-1914?) was a veteran of the American Civil War, serving for the Damn Yankees. Yet the horrors of war dulled not his wit nor sense of humor, though they may have amplified them. The bullet lodged within his skull behind his left ear – a souvenir of a battle at Kennesaw Mountain – didn't even slow him down. If anything war intensified his scrutiny of all life's pleasures and travails, and he made one seem like the other (or the other way around).

After the war, Bierce settled in San Francisco, a city known to proof cynics alongside sourdough (which explain part of your humble editor's disturbing disposition). From there Bierce exploited the writing trades as a satirist, short-story writer and journalist. From San Francisco, he journeyed to London in 1872, finding even more fertile fields for collecting cynical specimens.

During his career with the poison pen, Bierce (who also wrote under the pseudonym of William Herman) created a series of memorable alternate definitions for words which he later gathered into a collection titled The Devil's Dictionary, which was the kindling for this web site. Some classic Bierce incendiaries from The Devil's Dictionary include:

HAPPINESS, n. An agreeable sensation arising from contemplating the misery of another.

HAND, n. A singular instrument worn at the end of the human arm and commonly thrust into somebody's pocket.

POSITIVE, adj.: Mistaken at the top of one's voice.

SAINT: A dead sinner revised and edited.

Aside from the dictionary, Bierce is most remembered for his eerie tale of a civil war hanging titled An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge. Many of his short stories were of a supernatural nature, though he often ridiculed spiritualist and others involved in paranormal parlor games.

Bierce disappeared in old age riding into to war. At the age of 71, he headed south to Mexico to fight alongside of the bandit Pancho Villa. Bierce was never seen or heard from again (he is presumed to have died in the siege of Ojinega on January 11, 1914). A fictional account of his last days was told in the novel The Old Gringo (1985) by Carlos Fuentes, which was later adapted for the screen and directed by Luis Punzo, starring Gregory Peck (and unfortunately, Jane Fonda).

If irony is the step-brother to cynicism, then such an ironic end to a fabled life is only fitting.

Cynical Ambrose Bierce Quotations


God's [geography] deals with physical boundaries (oceans, mountains, etc.) while man's deals with arbitrary boundaries composed of the currently popular state of ill will and suspicion.

In his great work on Divergent Lines of Racial Evolution, the learned Professor Brayfugle argues from the prevalence of this gesture – the shrug – among Frenchmen, that they are descended from turtles and it is simply a survival of the habit of retracing the head inside the shell. It is with reluctance that I differ with so eminent an authority, but in my judgment the shrug is a poor foundation upon which to build so important a theory, for previously to the Revolution the gesture was unknown. I have not a doubt that it is directly referable to the terror inspired by the guillotine during the period of that instrument's activity.

It is related of Voltaire that one night he and some traveling companion lodged at a wayside inn. The surroundings were suggestive, and after supper they agreed to tell robber stories in turn. "Once there was a [tax collector]." Saying nothing more, he was encouraged to continue. "That," he said, "is the story."

The frying-pan was invented by Calvin, and by him used in cooking span-long infants that had died without baptism; and observing one day the horrible torment of a tramp who had incautiously pulled a fried babe from the waste-dump and devoured it, it occurred to the great divine to rob death of its terrors by introducing the frying-pan into every household in Geneva. Thence it spread to all corners of the world, and has been of invaluable assistance in the propagation of his somber faith.

There are four kinds of homicide: felonious, excusable, justifiable, and praiseworthy, but it makes no great difference to the person slain whether he fell by one kind or another – the classification is for advantage of the lawyers.

[Palistry] consists in "reading character" in the wrinkles made by closing the hand. The pretence is not altogether false; character can really be read very accurately in this way, for the wrinkles in every hand submitted plainly spell the word "dupe."

From women this ancient faith [of the great God Stomach] commands but a stammering assent. They sometimes minister at the altar in a half-hearted and ineffective way, but true reverence for the one deity that men really adore they know not. If woman had a free hand in the world's marketing the race would become graminivorous.

An absolute monarchy is one in which the sovereign does as he pleases so long as he pleases the assassins. Not many absolute monarchies are left, most of them having been replaced by limited monarchies, where the sovereign's power for evil (and for good) is greatly curtailed, and by republics, which are governed by chance.

[Love] This disease, like many other ailments, is prevalent only among civilized races living under artificial conditions; barbarous nations breathing pure air and eating simple food enjoy immunity from its ravages. It is sometimes fatal, but more frequently to the physician than to the patient.

Guy Smith
Guy Smith - cynical evidence with mini elvis

Smith is a self-serving runt of disrepute. He is also this site's engineer, editor, and resident cynic-at-large.

"There is a fine line between being a realist and a cynic. I straddle that line daily."

"Virginity is like rotting food in one's refrigerator: It stinks, is useless, and should be disposed of quickly."

"Man's inhumanity to man is bested only by woman's inhumanity to women."

Guy Smith is in the annals of cynicism.  Or it that anals.  Hard to tell with him.

Aside from being the despicable and socially unacceptable editor of the Cynical Web Site, Smith is a renowned writer, songwriter and political provocateur (well, he is renown in his living room, which is oddly inhabited by Guy and a few other surviving insects).

Smith's writing is seldom referred to, but has been called "A tragic collision between Kinky Friedman and P.J. O'Rourke, with Joseph Heller reading the eulogy."  Most of Smith's pithier and slimier quotes ooze with insights that only a deacon in the Church of Discount Worship could possibly put to pen.

Though Smith's origins are not well known, he has managed to infest the globe at points as far flung as Florida, Virginia, California and allegedly a small prison colony in the Philippines, though the only source for that last location is one of Smith's ex-wives.

Let's hope he gets writer's cramp.  Until then, suffer with these top Guy Smith cynicisms.

Cynical Guy Smith Quotations


Amazingly, most people are not ready to die despite having prepared for it their entire lives.

May you have the good fortune to die on a slow news day.

All parents see their children as perfect, at least until the teen years. This delusion is God's system for keeping parents from selling the little vermin off for medical experimentation.

Cats are like women. If you understand them, they make wonderful companions. If you don't understand them, then they are endless pains in the ass.

A catechism is a formalized, documented, structured review of Christian teachings. This is the ultimate extension of the principle that even the simplest concept can be expounded upon to create perfect misunderstanding.

My goal is to enjoy life, but life seems to be uncooperative.

"Wrath" is most commonly attributed to God and women. This should give men something to fear.

We should not be surprised that the abbreviation of the names of two of the most despised terrorist groups are so similar, they being the IRA and the IRS.

Death is the only goal one can achieve without help, and even then you occasionally receive unwanted assistance.