A pundit 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 पण्डित), meaning "knowledge owner" or "learned man". 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(rishi).
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.
Josef Joffe's book chapter The Decline of the Public Intellectual and the Rise of the Pundit describes a change in the role of public experts and relates to developments in the audience and the media itself. One of the problems related to expertise is the rapid amount of specialisation and knowledge, especially strong in the American universities. While in the 1960s, political science had just 5 subdisciplines, the number had increased to 104 by 2000. In the second half of the 20th century, foreigners like Hannah Arendt or Jürgen Habermas and others gained a certain position in the US as public intellectuals due to the (over)specialization of US academics.
A pundit now combines the roles of a public intellectual and has a certain expertise as a media practitioner. Pundits may be regarded as more shallow and superficial from a university perspective. The intellectual dimension might and should be challenged. But they play an increasing role in disseminating ideas and views in an accessible way to the public. From Joffe's view, Karl Marx in Europe and e.g. in the US, Mark Twain were early and relentless pundits ante festum. In addition, the growing role of think tanks and research institutions like the Brookings Institution, the American Enterprise Institute and the Manhattan Institute provided a place for those dealing with 'big issues' in public language.
The term talking head (in existence since 1964) has derogatory overtones. For example, the judge in the David Westerfield trial in San Diego in 2002 said "The talking heads are doing nothing but speculating about what the jury may or may not be thinking".
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.
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.
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