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Friday, November 9, 2012


We've been subjected to more than our fair share of punditry in the last few weeks as the professionally opinionated weigh in on the US election. But why do we call these talking heads "pundits"?
The word comes from India, where a pandita was (and still is) a very learned or wise person well versed in Sanskrit and Indian philosophy, religion, and law. It is one of quite a few Indian words that the British adopted during their time in the subcontinent. In the mid-19th century, at the height of the Raj, the British used the word to designate an officer in the Indian judiciary with the responsibility of advising British judges on questions of Hindu law, or an Indian person trained and employed to survey regions beyond the British frontier.
But the word took on a life of its own beyond India's borders, being used to mean "expert" by the beginning of the 19th century, oddly enough predating the noun "expert"  itself by about 50 years, though the adjective "expert"  (derived from the Latin experire "to experience") had been around since Chaucer's time. 
By the early 20th century it had acquired its derivative "punditry", to which has been added more recently "punditocracy". 
To me "pundit" has a slightly disparaging tone to it. While acknowledging that the pundits are specialists in their field, the word does suggest to me an opinion for hire willing to spout off in the media. I doubt that news anchors or moderators would refer to their experts as pundits to their faces. What do you think about the connotations of this word?


  1. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  2. Many words have a pejorative use and this is one of those words. Client is another.

  3. Thanks for this timely reminder, Katherine. Pundits have turned the term into mocking. In recent days, what passes for "fact" is a lie disguised as doggedly repeated opinion.


About Me

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Canada's Word Lady, Katherine Barber is an expert on the English language and a frequent guest on radio and television. She was Editor-in-Chief of the Canadian Oxford Dictionary. Her witty and informative talks on the stories behind our words are very popular. Contact her at wordlady.barber@gmail.com to book her for speaking engagements; she can tailor her talks to almost any subject. She is also available as an expert witness for lawsuits.