What is the origin of zeitgeist?
Zeitgeist, “the spirit of the time; general trend of thought or feeling characteristic of a particular period,” comes straight from German Zeitgeist. In German, the noun dates from the late 18th century; it is a compound of Zeit “time, age, epoch” (related to English tide, which waits for no man) and Geist “spirit, mind, intellect” (related to English ghost). The English translation of Zeitgeist as “Time-Spirit” appears in English in Carlyle’s Sartor Resartus (1834). Time-spirit still occurs in English publications, but nowadays zeitgeist, spelled without a capital z in English, is becoming common (in German all nouns are capitalized, e.g., Zeit, Geist, Butter “butter,” Milch “milk,” and Eier “eggs”). Capitalizing important words (not only nouns) was also formerly the custom in English, as in the preamble to our Declaration of Independence: “When in the Course of human Events, it becomes necessary for one People to dissolve the Political Bands which have connected them with another….” Zeitgeist entered English toward the middle of the 19th century.