Meet a word whose history really is a mystery — “pundit”

These days you can’t turn on the television without being bombarded by panels of pundits spewing their two cents. If there were a prize for the term whose contemporary meaning is the furthest from its origin, “pundit” would be a contender.

When we talk about a pundit, we are referring to someone who comments or opines on a subject. The word also implies that the person is an authority or expert on a particular subject matter. But pundit originally referred to someone who was erudite, conducted religious ceremonies, and offered counsel to a king or mayor.

Pundit comes from the Hindi pandit. And pandit was derived from the Sanskrit pandita, which means “a learned man or scholar.”

The term first enters English in the late seventeenth century, referring to a court official in Colonial India who advised English judges about Hindu law.

In the 1800s, the British ran into problems trying to access Indian border countries in the north. So, they trained and paid local Indians to survey the land for them. These surveyors were called pundits.

Some believe that the modern use of the word came from a Yale University society called “The Pundits.” Founded in 1884, the group was known for offering humorous and insightful criticism about contemporary society and politics.

Which talking head do you think is the most punditic? And are there other words whose origin piques your curiosity? Let us know.

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