noun, often capitalized
zeit·​geist | \ˈtsīt-ˌgīst, ˈzīt- \

Definition of zeitgeist 

: the general intellectual, moral, and cultural climate of an era

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Did You Know?

Scholars have long maintained that each era has a unique spirit, a nature or climate that sets it apart from all other epochs. In German, such a spirit is known as "Zeitgeist," from the German words Zeit, meaning "time," and Geist, meaning "spirit" or "ghost." Some writers and artists assert that the true zeitgeist of an era cannot be known until it is over, and several have declared that only artists or philosophers can adequately explain it. We don’t know if that’s true, but we do know that "zeitgeist" has been a useful addition to the English language since at least 1835.

Examples of zeitgeist in a Sentence

His songs perfectly captured the zeitgeist of 1960s America.

Recent Examples on the Web

Flynn has a track record of arriving early to the zeitgeist (see also: the cool girl riff). Jessica M. Goldstein, Marie Claire, "Gillian Flynn, Killer Queen," 8 July 2018 For the better part of a decade, there’s been no artist who defined the zeitgeist quite like Drake, the Canadian rapper-singer whose work has birthed countless memes and imitators. Andy Hutchins, Time, "Scorpion Finds Drake Struggling to Keep It All Together," 29 June 2018 The digital wellness movement is quickly gaining momentum, and Apple has only just dipped its toe into the zeitgeist; after all, the company spent just shy of seven minutes discussing its new time management features. Robbie Gonzalez, WIRED, "Why Apple Can’t Tackle Digital Wellness in a Vacuum," 5 June 2018 Elastigirl gets a story line perfectly suited to the current zeitgeist. Kathryn Shattuck, New York Times, "Holly Hunter Stretches Into Her Superhero Powers," 19 June 2018 Hulu The ambitious first season of this Margaret Atwood adaptation, a zeitgeist hit, began promisingly but ran into serious issues, among them a major tone problem that saw moments of weird levity studding the proceedings. Daniel D'addario, Time, "Best TV Shows of 2018 So Far," 30 May 2018 Thanks to the Netflix documentaries Wild, Wild Country and Waco as well as Leah Remini’s ongoing assault on Scientology via her A&E docu-series, cults have re-entered the zeitgeist. Amelia Harnish, refinery29.com, ""At This Point We Are In Despair": One Woman's Quest To Bring Her Brother Home From NXIVM," 29 June 2018 Western garments fit for those old frontier days have entered the fashion zeitgeist in a major way over the past few months. Rachel Hahn, Vogue, "Swae Lee Gives the Cowboy Boot Trend Some Hip-Hop Swagger," 28 June 2018 Katy Perry, Kesha, Lorde, Fergie, Miley Cyrus, Timberlake, and Swift, all of whom recently owned the zeitgeist, have released notably underperforming albums; half of those albums failed to achieve a single top 10 hit. Dj Louie Xiv, Vanities, "Has 2018 Killed the Pop Star?," 22 June 2018

These example sentences are selected automatically from various online news sources to reflect current usage of the word 'zeitgeist.' Views expressed in the examples do not represent the opinion of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback.

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First Known Use of zeitgeist

1835, in the meaning defined above

History and Etymology for zeitgeist

German, from Zeit + Geist spirit

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Statistics for zeitgeist

Last Updated

27 Oct 2018

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Time Traveler for zeitgeist

The first known use of zeitgeist was in 1835

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English Language Learners Definition of zeitgeist

: the general beliefs, ideas, and spirit of a time and place

More from Merriam-Webster on zeitgeist

Nglish: Translation of zeitgeist for Spanish Speakers

Britannica English: Translation of zeitgeist for Arabic Speakers

Comments on zeitgeist

What made you want to look up zeitgeist? Please tell us where you read or heard it (including the quote, if possible).


obstinately defiant of authority

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