noun, often capitalized
zeit·​geist | \ ˈtsīt-ˌgīst How to pronounce zeitgeist (audio) , ˈzīt- How to pronounce zeitgeist (audio) \

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 Even earlier this year, the film felt urgent, expressing an essential truth in the zeitgeist about political corruption and the role of the press in holding federal agencies and corporations accountable for endangering lives. Katie Walsh, chicagotribune.com, "'Collective’ review: Oscar entry has a deadly nightclub fire at its center and is an eerily prescient investigation of political corruption," 18 Nov. 2020 Geoff Dyer wrote in a March essay for The New Yorker magazine that captured the germaphobic zeitgeist. Apoorva Mandavilli, New York Times, "The Coronavirus Is Airborne Indoors. Why Are We Still Scrubbing Surfaces?," 18 Nov. 2020 While Blandino sidelined his bold makeup range in response to the zeitgeist, the truth is, a more low-key aesthetic was already taking shape even before coronavirus spread throughout the globe. Erika Stalder, refinery29.com, "Goodbye “Instagram Face” — Natural Beauty Is Making A Comeback," 21 Aug. 2020 The seller of skateboarding T-shirts, hats and sweatshirts has tapped into the zeitgeist of teens seeking hard-to-get looks. Dave Sebastian, WSJ, "Supreme Streetwear Brand Sold to VF in $2.1 Billion Deal," 9 Nov. 2020 After all, one moment’s zeitgeist is another’s old hat, even if that hat is spangled. Alexis Soloski, New York Times, "‘Hamilton’ Was Just the Beginning. Hollywood Loves Broadway, Again.," 4 Nov. 2020 And, perhaps speaking for all of us, regardless of political beliefs, summed up the zeitgeist. Sarah Ravits, NOLA.com, "In deep red St. Bernard Parish, small signs of change start to show on Election Night," 3 Nov. 2020 But the zeitgeist of the movie—whether the ballot box or political revolution is the right course in the face of an increasingly authoritarian government in Washington—correctly captures the world then and the world now. Arkansas Online, "OPINION | WILL BUNCH: An unwanted repetition of history," 25 Oct. 2020 And what better moment could there be to poke his prodigious mustache inside the zeitgeist once again? Leah Greenblatt, EW.com, "Borat Subsequent Moviefilm is brilliantly uncomfortable and perfectly timed: Review," 21 Oct. 2020

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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Time Traveler for zeitgeist

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The first known use of zeitgeist was in 1835

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Last Updated

29 Nov 2020

Cite this Entry

“Zeitgeist.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/zeitgeist. Accessed 4 Dec. 2020.

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More Definitions for zeitgeist


How to pronounce zeitgeist (audio) How to pronounce zeitgeist (audio)

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

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