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A pundit (sometimes called a talking head) is a person who offers to mass media their opinion or commentary on a particular subject area (most typically political analysis, the social sciences, technology or sport) on which they are knowledgeable (or can at least appear to be knowledgeable), or considered a scholar in said area. The term has been increasingly applied to popular media personalities. In certain cases, it may be used in a derogatory manner as well, as the political equivalent of ideologue.
The term originates from the Sanskrit term pandit (paṇḍitá), meaning "learned". It refers to someone who is erudite in various subjects and who conducts religious ceremonies and offers counsel to the king and usually referred to a person from the Hindu Brahmin caste but may also refer to the Siddhas, Siddhars, Naths, Ascetics, Sadhus, or Yogis.
From at least the early 19th century, a Pundit of the Supreme Court in Colonial India was an officer of the judiciary who advised British judges on questions of Hindu law. In Anglo-Indian use, pundit also referred to a native of India who was trained and employed by the British to survey inaccessible regions beyond the British frontier.
In Anglophone countries
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In the English-speaking West, pundits write signed articles in print media (blurbs included), and appear on radio, television, or the internet with opinions on current events. Television pundits may also be referred to as Talking Heads. In a BBC television interview following the murder of John Lennon, former British Prime Minister Harold Wilson insisted that in selecting the Beatles for the Order of the British Empire, a British honour, he was acting on his belief that the pop group was doing something new that "the pundits" (by which he presumably meant people such as newspaper music critics) had not recognised. This derogatory use of the word is an indication of the low esteem in which commentators (particularly cultural commentators) are held in Britain (particularly by politicians).
Punditry has become a more popular vehicle in nightly newscasts on American cable news networks. A rise of partisanship among popular pundits began with Bill O'Reilly of Fox News Channel. His opinion-oriented format led him to ratings success and has led others, including Bill Maher, Keith Olbermann, and Nancy Grace to express their opinions on matters on their own programs. The judge in the David Westerfield trial in San Diego in 2002 referred to the pundits as "talking heads": "The talking heads are doing nothing but speculating about what the jury may or may not be thinking". Andrew Bolt—popular columnist for Australia's highest circulated newspaper, The Herald Sun—is a pundit whose popularity equals that of O'Reilly and his successors.
At the same time, many people who appear as pundits are recognized for having serious academic and scholarly experience in the subject at hand. Examples are pundits Paul Krugman, who received a Nobel Prize in Economics, and Stephen Biddle, who received U.S. Army Superior Civilian Service Medals in 2003 and 2006.
In sports commentating, a "pundit" or color commentator may be partnered with a play-by-play announcer who will describe the action while asking the pundit for analysis. Alternatively, pundits may be asked for their opinions during breaks in the play.
In continental Europe
In Germany, France, Russia, and Italy many pundits achieve a status of public intellectual. They typically hold academic jobs and are known for their personal accomplishments in art, philosophy, economics, and similar fields. Unlike in America, such qualified intellectuals tend to be more widely known among the populace and their pronouncements achieve wide currency. Examples include Jürgen Habermas in Germany, Michel Foucault in France, Umberto Eco in Italy, and Andrei Sakharov in Russia.
- "UN.org". UN.org. 2010-11-22. Retrieved 2013-07-08.
- "pundit, n." in Oxford English Dictionary
- "Cable rantings boost ratings". Usatoday.Com. 2006-10-03. Retrieved 2013-07-08.
- Dillon, Jeff, and Steve Perez. "Judge denies defense motion to sequester jury," San Diego Union-Tribune, August 15, 2002. Retrieved 22 April 2014.
- Media related to Pundit at Wikimedia Commons