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 The weirdness of Manimal and Automan couldn't find a steady audience, but shows such as Airwolf and Alf stuck around long enough to solidify a place in the zeitgeist. Roberto Baldwin, Car and Driver, "K.I.T.T., David Hasselhoff's Personal Knight Rider Car, Is up for Auction," 5 Jan. 2021 Whatever the reason, this was the year that a large chunk of the celebrity zeitgeist, Jewish and non-, had fun marking Hanukkah. Gabe Friedman, sun-sentinel.com, "Heartwarming Jewish stories from 2020," 30 Dec. 2020 The store focused on low-price natural and organic foods, catching the California zeitgeist. oregonlive, "The departed: Heroes, celebrities and rogues, from Oregon and beyond, who died in 2020," 28 Dec. 2020 Because that’s the point of Vogue: to capture the cultural zeitgeist, and consider how our lives intertwine with it. Vogue, "The Top 10 Most-Read Culture Stories of 2020," 27 Dec. 2020 In a year that’s felt like one giant dark cloud, moods have permeated the zeitgeist. Rachel Rosenblit, Washington Post, "Feeling moody? One author shares wisdom about halting those downward spirals.," 14 Dec. 2020 This pressure aims, at heart, to do one thing: to shift the zeitgeist, so that the sense of what is normal and natural and obvious changes and, with it, the decisions of politicians and investors. Bill Mckibben, The New Yorker, "Where We Stand on Climate," 11 Dec. 2020 Within this socioeconomic context, egg freezing has become the zeitgeist because while adulthood may look different for young people, the fertility of both men and women still declines with age. Vicky Spratt, refinery29.com, "Real Talk, Should You Actually Freeze Your Eggs?," 13 Nov. 2020 Streaming services officially are a destination for television, and some of the best shows on Netflix have won Emmy awards and hit the cultural zeitgeist. Christopher Rosa, Glamour, "45 Best Shows on Netflix to Binge Now (November 2020)," 4 Nov. 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

Time Traveler

The first known use of zeitgeist was in 1835

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Last Updated

22 Jan 2021

Cite this Entry

“Zeitgeist.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/zeitgeist. Accessed 24 Jan. 2021.

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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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