¿Hombres? Pero mirá que sos cínica, Martita, ¿eh?
"Men? But you're quite shameless Martita, aren't you?"
[caption 12, La muñeca brava - la apuesta - part 12]
Pero no lo hace de mala, eh. De bruta que es, lo hace.
"But she doesn't do it because she's mean. She does it because she's just stupid."
[caption 16, La muñeca brava - la apuesta - part 12]
Mili is having it out with her fellow domestica, Marta, in La Muñeca brava, La apuesta, part 12. Mili calls Marta cínica and bruta. But Marta doesn’t look like a "brute" and we really don’t know her philosophical affiliations. So, what gives?
The words bruto and cínico share Latin roots with their English cousins “brute” and “cynical,” but they don’t mean exactly the same thing. As a matter of fact, they usually mean something else when used in Spanish. If you look at how we translated these words, you will find “stupid” for bruta, and “shameless” for cínica.
Both are adjectives that, when applied to human beings, can also be nouns. No seas bruta or bruto translates into English as “Don’t be stupid” or “[…] dense,” the idea being “as stupid or dense as an animal, a ‘brute.’ ” In Spanish, on the other hand, if you want to call someone a “brute,” you’d say he's an animal (“animal”) or bestia (“beast”): Ese animal quiso propasarse con mi prima. (“That brute tried to go too far with my cousin.”)
In English, “cynical” usually refers to a person who believes in nothing or is generally distrustful of people. “That critic is a real cynic. He never likes anything!” But for this critic to be cínico in Spanish, he would have another quality entirely: Ese critico es un verdadero cínico. Escribió una buena reseña de la obra sólo porque la actriz principal es su amante. “That critic has no shame. He wrote a good review of the play only because the leading lady is his lover.”
There is a Yiddish word, frequently used in English, that nails cínico right on the head: chutzpah. In Spanish it only has the negative sense, though, which according to Leo Rosten is “gall, brazen nerve, effrontery”. That’s the Spanish cínico in a nutshell. “Talk about chutzpah, the nerve of that guy!” ¡Qué cínico!
Bruto and "brute" both have a shared root in the Latin "brutus" ("heavy, dull, stupid," later came to mean "associated with lower animals/beasts"). The English "brute" tends to associate more with the physicality aspect (strong yet not graceful) while the Spanish bruto tends to associate more with the mentality aspect (simple minded, ignorant, stupid), but there does exist some crossover in both languages.
Similarly, the Spanish cínico does at times take on a meaning very similar to the meaning we usually ascribe to "cynical" in English, and the reverse is also true. Their shared ancestry goes even deeper than the Latin "cynic," all the way back to the Greek "Kunikas."
For further reading on cínico:
An excellent and very interesting deeper look at cínico and cynical:
An expat in Chile discovers the cínico / cynical difference the hard way: