Half Jocular Mode

One word I've seen floating around a lot lately is pundit. Mostly, the word seems to be used in connection with bloggers, and not in a flattering way, either. It also seems it's frequently used by journalists, so I decided to see if I could educate myself in this matter. Out on the Net, I immediately ran across a few comments apparently made by Michael Shear of The Washington Post while addressing a roomful of bloggers, and quoted at the Beltway Blogroll.

You are pundits. You are aggregators of other people's work. You are analysts. You are political activists. You are gossips. You are agitators. You are not journalists.

Ouch. When I typed define: pundit in the Google search box, the results I got back were a bit confusing. A learned man, and an honorary title. A Hindu priest. Someone considered highly knowledgeable in a particular subject area, most typically political analysis and the social sciences. The presiding expert on a subject. Someone who has been admitted to membership in a scholarly field. None of these definitions seemed particularly disparaging, so I began to wonder if I had somehow misconstrued the intent.

Approaching from the other end, I got even less information for my journalist definition. A person who practices journalism, the gathering and dissemination of information about current events, trends, issues and people. Someone who works in the news gathering business, such as a photographer, editor or reporter. A writer for newspapers and magazines. No more enlightened than before, I decided to try elsewhere. At The Columbia Guide to Standard American English, things began to uncloud a little.

These are variants of the same Sanskrit word, meaning "wise or learned man." In Hindi it is a title, an honorific, as in Pandit Nehru. English uses the pundit spelling (and pronunciation) half-jocularly: a pundit is someone who has or claims to have expert knowledge, perhaps even wisdom.

I suppose there are a lot of words that, used in Half Jocular Mode, take on attributes of satire. No longer full inhabitants of the realm of earnest expression, they become two-edged swords whose victims rarely notice their subtle arc until it's too late. Someone who has, or perhaps only claims to have . . . wait, what's that swishing sou . . . aaaaiiiiii!!!

Anyway, a quick trip to Answers.com nicely rounded out the definition, leaving little doubt about the word's multipurpose identity.

In politics, the word pundit has been assimilated into English as a reference to someone who is very knowledgeable on a particular subject, usually in social sciences. Pundit is also a slang term for politically biased people pretending to be neutral. The term achieved mainstream use, partly by the popular blog, Instapundit.

In the English-speaking west, the pundits are those who are the presiding experts on a subject and write signed articles in newspapers or appear on radio or television to opine on current events. Television pundits are sometimes called "talking heads".

By extension, the term pundit is also used to refer to individuals that express opinions in the media without necessarily being a recognized expert on a particular subject matter. Pundits are often accused of being politically biased and for using informal logic in fallacious ways; in this sense, the term is also used as a term of disparagement.

Disparaging indeed. At least in a half-jocular sort of way.   


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