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 series is set in 1985, a year after Red Dawn was released, and the film’s attitude seems to have leached into the zeitgeist. Sophie Gilbert, The Atlantic, "The American Paranoia of Stranger Things 3," 4 July 2019 Calvin helped define the zeitgeist of the New York ’90s. Nicole Phelps, Vogue, "That’s So ’90s: Vogue Editors Share Their Favorite Fashion Memories From This Year’s Most Trending Decade," 22 Dec. 2018 The law reflected the zeitgeist of the early Internet era, when any whisper of taxation, regulation, or copyright obligation looked like an existential threat to fledgling tech firms, but circumstances have clearly changed. The Editorial Board, BostonGlobe.com, "The case for breaking up Google," 14 June 2018 With its sleek, modern look, towering size and place in contemporary art’s zeitgeist, there’s nothing quite like it in downtown Detroit. Ryan Patrick Hooper, Detroit Free Press, "Gilberts buy 17-foot-tall statue for Detroit's Campus Martius," 18 May 2018 Instead, the goal of many artists is to capture beauty while acknowledging the contemporary zeitgeist. WSJ, "What Place Has Politics in a House of Art?," 27 Dec. 2018 The inescapable, infinitely meme-able anthem exploded thanks in part to current zeitgeist monopolizer Donald Glover, who praised both the act and their track in an acceptance speech at the 2017 Golden Globes. Molly Eichel, Philly.com, "If there's one hip hop trio that would survive the apocalypse, it'd be Migos," 15 May 2018 Cultural critics have variously found vampires to be walking reproaches to colonialism, capitalism, sexism, technological hubris and anything else gnawing on the conscience of the zeitgeist. Daniel Akst, WSJ, "‘The Vampire’ Review: Creatures Made for Haunting," 30 Oct. 2018 Films that spawn decades of sequels initially become part of the zeitgeist for a reason, no doubt, and broad trends in the genre often reflect the cultural anxieties of the moment. Bryan Bishop, The Verge, "The new Halloween is a slasher movie with an actual message," 19 Oct. 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

7 Jul 2019

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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

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