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 Baby Yoda, the breakout Disney Plus creature of the moment, would never have snuggled into the zeitgeist if the rotors and motors and animatronic tics of his wizened green forebear hadn’t clicked into place exactly 40 years ago. Michael Cavna, Washington Post, "The secrets to creating an irresistible Star Wars creature, from Chewie to Baby Yoda," 19 Dec. 2019 That song in particular is now neurologically built into the zeitgeist. Cady Lang, Time, "How Mariah Carey's 'All I Want For Christmas Is You' Became the Holiday Gift That Keeps on Giving," 1 Nov. 2019 This is what happens to art under capitalism; success is cloned until the market shifts and something new worms its way into the zeitgeist. Adam Wilson, Harper's magazine, "Good Bad Bad Good," 16 Sep. 2019 Twitter’s white boy of the month is traditionally handsome and charismatic, their rising star catapulted into the zeitgeist by fans’ tweets, likes, and retweets. Gabe Bergado, Teen Vogue, "Twitter’s White Boy of the Month Meme Is a Match Made in Heaven Between Celebrity and Internet Culture," 26 Aug. 2019 Now, nearly two months after the unanimous vote that propelled the mural into the national zeitgeist, the school board appears to be reversing course. Los Angeles Times, "Newsletter: What will become of San Francisco’s controversial George Washington mural?," 13 Aug. 2019 Ad agencies’ increasing reliance on data is inverting the traditional creative model, where the teams dreaming up ad campaigns use their gut instincts to tap into the zeitgeist. Matthew Kassel, WSJ, "Ad Creators Get Inspiration From Big Data," 17 June 2019 That was followed by an evening of performances that were mostly strong and often stirring — and a winners list that was enough in sync with the zeitgeist to stave off accusations of total cluelessness. Brian Mccollum, Detroit Free Press, "Billie Eilish, Lizzo triumph as Grammys seem destined for a new direction," 27 Jan. 2020 For the past few years, with the election of Donald Trump, the climate crisis, and the rise of a new feminist movement, protest and resistance dressing has become a mainstay in the zeitgeist. Brooke Bobb, Vogue, "Defining Power in Fashion: A New Exhibition Explores the Subject Through Pop Culture, Politics, and Sex," 10 Dec. 2019

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

Time Traveler

The first known use of zeitgeist was in 1835

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Last Updated

17 Feb 2020

Cite this Entry

“Zeitgeist.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/zeitgeist. Accessed 27 Feb. 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

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Nglish: Translation of zeitgeist for Spanish Speakers

Britannica English: Translation of zeitgeist for Arabic Speakers

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