What “Secret” History of the Term “Pundit”?

These days you can’t turn on the television without being bombarded by panels of pundits spewing their two cents. But what exactly is a pundit? The word has an interesting history that sheds more light into its contemporary meaning. It’s also had its share of fun—when used by a secret society at Yale.

What is a pundit?

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 1600s, referring to a court official in Colonial India who advised English judges about Hindu law.

Wait, why are some pundits naked?

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. At this time, a Pundit of the Supreme Court also served as an advisor to British judges on matters of Hindu law.

Some believe that the modern use of the word came from a Yale University secret society called “The Pundits.” Founded in 1884, the group was known for offering humorous and insightful criticism about contemporary society and politics (and for pulling many pranks, including running through the library naked).

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