I am trying to understand the second meaning given for "zynisch" in Duden online:

(2) eine gefühllose, mitleidlose, menschenverachtende Haltung zum Ausdruck bringend, die besonders in bestimmten Angelegenheiten, Situationen als konträr, paradox und als jemandes Gefühle verachtend und verletzend empfunden wird

I think I get the gist of it, but I'm still unsure of some particulars and shades of the overall meaning. I give here my best translation to better point out the points I'm usure of:

Expressing an insensitive, uncompassionate, disdainful (?) attitude/behaviour, which, especially in specific matters or situations, is felt as antagonistic (?), paradoxical (?), and as disdaining and hurting someone’s feelings.

I'll get the particulars out of the way first. It doesn't matter if there isn't a good one-word translation; I just want ot undestand the meaning.

I found menschenverachtend in google translator only, and it says it means inhuman, but, not trusting google translator 100%, I'd rather listen to native expertise.

My antagonistic for konträr is pure guesswork: it's the only thing I can see related to contrary that makes sense to me in this context. Could you explain?

What does paradox mean there? "Perplexing," "hard/impossible to understand"? Does it mean people get shocked because they don't understand why the Zyniker is so mean?

Now regarding the overall meaning. Why is in bestimmten Angelegenheiten, Situationen important? Does it simply mean a Zyniker does not have to be zynisch all the time? Or is there a finer point to it? And lastly it would be great if someone could clarify the overal menaing with examples of the word in context.

Feel free to answer in German

Thanks a lot in advance. And if you're wondering I got into this whlile looking at the differences between the meanings of "cynical", Portuguese "cínico", French "cynique", and "zynisch" (they´re all rather different, though Duden meaning (1) is similar to French), and the Duden definition proved rather trying.


If you combine your translation of menschenverachtend with Google's, you get the correct sense: disdainful of human values and the value of human life. The word is mostly used to describe opinions, in which case there is no implication that these are actually realised as acts. But if they are, the acts can be described as inhuman. A lot of things that intoxicated people write in political internet forums are best described as menschenverachtend.

Google Translator is really poor as a substitute for a dictionary. For translations between German and major other languages, use dict.leo.org. It would not have helped with menschenverachtend, but it gets konträr right: contrarian. (In this particular case your translation antagonistic is better.)

(Actually - I guess translating menschenverachtend to Spanish or Italian with dict.leo.org would also have helped you, after all. The result is misantropico, which clarifies yet another facet of the word in addition to the French translation dédaigneux, which I guess you already found.)

Paradox just translates to paradoxical, which Wiktionary explains as "having self-contradictory properties". That's what it means - in general and in this context.

  • I've just tried dict.leo.org.Thanks for the tip. Don't think misantrópico is the right spanish equivalent though. The Dicionário da Real Academia Espanola says misántropo (you only get a proper definition for the noun) is a person who, owing to a sad disposition, shuns human contact. I wonder what's self-contradictory in a "zynische" attitude?! – Jacinto Sep 13 '15 at 14:32
  • 1
    Even though the original sense of paradox (against generally accepted teachings/beliefs) might be a better fit here, I still think it isn't intended since this meaning doesn't really exist in German any more. Paradox in this case is not an objective description but is reported as how people feel about cynics. In sense, disdaining all humans is paradoxical because it means you have to disdain yourself, which then undermines your basis for disdaining anything at all. – Hans Adler Sep 13 '15 at 14:47

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.