Printable Version
Pronunciation: zait-gaist Hear it!

Part of Speech: Noun, mass (no plural)

Meaning: The spirit of the times, the tastes and attitudes of a generation, the cultural climate of an era.

Notes: Zeitgeist is another lexical orphan without lexical relatives. However, the zeitgeist of an era usually launches a flurry of new words. The zeitgeist of the Roaring 20s brought us jazz, speak-easies, flappers, and the words that go with them. The zeitgeist of the 40s was one of unity and world war. This was the era of the chopper, pinup, dreamboats, and thingamabobs.

In Play: The zeitgeist of the 60s and 70s was one of liberation, individualism and rampant creativity. It also saw, like, sit-ins put us on the boob tube, far-out happenings that would blow your mind, and groupies that hung loose. Want more? See alphaDictionary's Historical Dictionary of American Slang.

Word History: The origin of today's Good Word, if you haven't already guessed, is the German language. It is a compound made up of Zeit "time" + Geist "spirit". The concept of Zeitgeist goes back to Johann Gottfried Herder and other German Romanticists, but is usually associated with Hegel's philosophy of history. In 1769 Herder wrote a critique of the work Genius saeculi by the Christian Adolph Klotz, and introduced the word Zeitgeist to German as a translation of "genius saeculi": genius "spirit" + saeculi "of the age". The English word that comes from the same Proto-Germanic word as Zeit is tide, which originally meant "time", still evident in yuletide. Geist came to English as ghost, but Geist itself was borrowed by English in poltergeist, literally "rattling ghost", from poltern "to jangle, rattle" + Geist. (If alphaDictionary is a part of the zeitgeist of the 21st century, Suzanne Russell keeps the spirit very well, having suggested several very Good Words over the past years.)

Dr. Goodword,

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