A Word A Day : Zeitgeist

Monday, 4th February 2008 : Today's Word is ...


( Noun )

Pronunciation : zt-gst & tst-gst

1. the ideas prevalent in a period and place, particularly as expressed in literature, philosophy, and religion

2. the spirit of the time

3. the taste and outlook characteristic of a period or generation

4. the general moral, intellectual, and cultural climate of an era


Germany - Zeit - time - from Middle High German zīt, from Old High German + Geist - spirit

The concept of Zeitgeist goes back to Johann Gottfried Herder and other German Romantics such as Cornelius Jagdmann, but is best known in relation to Hegel's philosophy of history. In 1769 Herder wrote a critique of the work Genius seculi by the philologist Christian Adolph Klotz (German Wikipedia article) and introduced the word Zeitgeist into German as a translation of genius seculi (Latin: genius - guardian spirit and saeculi - of the century).

The German Romantics, habitually tempted to reduce the past to essences, treated the Zeitgeist as an historical character in its own right, rather than a generalized description for an era.


The spirit of the times; the dominant beliefs of a particular period. The term is usually applied to the study of literature, but it has also been applied to sport (for example, in connection with the current belief that winning is all that matters).

Contextual Examples:

• Opinions, that deviate from the ruling zeitgeist, always aggravate the crowd.

• The product of paper and printed ink, that we commonly call the book, is one of the great visible mediators between spirit and time, and, reflecting zeitgeist, lasts as long as ore and stone.

• You exist in the Zeitgeist with a cane.

• Whoever marries the zeitgeist will be a widower soon.

Related Words:

poltergeist : Noun ( A ghost that manifests itself by noises, rappings, and the creation of disorder )

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