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In the abroad entry of The Oxford Living Dictionaries, there are a handful of examples containing the word spirit (Examples are rearranged by me):

  1. [T]here is a new buccaneering spirit abroad.
  2. First, there may be an entrepreneurial spirit increasingly abroad in Sweden and its cultural industries that has led to a wave of start-ups.
  3. A spirit of enquiry is abroad among the Chinese, and there is a class of students, by no means small in number, who receive with avidity instruction on scientific matters from the West.
  4. After all the bitterness in the game over the past few years, there seemed something of a new spirit abroad, to which the persona of Tony Gilbert, the Borders' Kiwi coach, has contributed.
  5. When traditional people speak of ‘spirits’ that are abroad, they tend to refer to presence such as the wind, or the creative force of a word.

  1. In short, at the top of the new century he caught a new spirit abroad.

  2. The OED gives, ‘When a nation is in the throes of revolution, wild spirits are abroad in the storm.’

  3. In our three weeks in Cornwall, Wales and Ireland, we saw amazing sites and felt remarkable spirits abroad in the land.

As for the first group of examples I can identify the meaning of the word spirit with the second meaning in spirit:

2 [in singular] The prevailing or typical quality, mood, or attitude of a person, group, or period of time.

What about last three examples? Do they refer to a ghost or an ethos?

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    Thanks, but my question is about the word spirit. – Kaveh May 5 '18 at 18:18
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    As I mention in the last paragraph, I looked it up in a dictionary, but the meaning remained ambiguous for me between ghost and ethos. – Kaveh May 5 '18 at 18:39
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    Consider the German word Zeitgeist, "spirit of the age", which has been adopted into English. "Zeit" is "time" or "tide" (not the oceanic sort) and "Geist" is "ghost" or "spirit", so that if the word had been constructed in English the way it was in German, we would say "tideghost". It seems to me that the word "spirit" in the first four examples at the beginning of this discussion would be well represented by Zeitgeist, but I don't recommend changing the wording: "spirit" is better in each of the four examples. – tautophile May 5 '18 at 19:31
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    @EdwinAshworth Would you please explain the first sentence: "In short, at the top of the new century he caught a new spirit abroad." In particular, how he (one single person) caught a new spirit widespreadly? Do we speak about an exorcist? – Kaveh May 5 '18 at 19:50
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    I'd like more context for the "...he caught a new spirit abroad," but I'd take it to mean that someone ("he") had traveled abroad and had been invigorated/enlightened/encouraged by what he encountered. – user888379 May 5 '18 at 21:58
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spirit(s) TFD

a. A force or principle believed to animate living beings. b. A force or principle believed to animate humans and often to endure after departing from the body of a person at death; the soul. 2. Spirit The Holy Spirit. 3. A supernatural being, as: a. An angel or demon. b. A being inhabiting or embodying a particular place, object, or natural phenomenon. c. A fairy or sprite.

abroad TFD

  1. In circulation; at large.
  2. Covering a large area; widely

Spirits Abroad: any and/or all spirits, here and/or elsewhere.

As in:

At the top of the new century he found a new force at large in the land etc ...

When a nation is in the throes of revolution, wild ideas are abroad in the storm.

In our three weeks in Cornwall, Wales and Ireland, we saw amazing sites and 'felt' the remarkable historical souls abroad in the land.

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  • "In short, at the top of the new century he caught a new spirit abroad." How he could catch a new spirit here and everywhere? Was he an exorcist? I can't make sense of this sentence. – Kaveh May 5 '18 at 18:37
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    @Kaveh "Caught" here does not mean captured; it means sensed or perceived. "Abroad" may mean "at large" or it may mean overseas, e.g., an Englishman talking about a change of spirit (view, attitude toward life) in Europe. – Xanne May 5 '18 at 23:03
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According to English Idioms, by James Main Dixon, M.A., F.R.S.E. (Professor of English Literature in the Imperial University of Japan), ca. 1902:

Abroad. ALL ABROAD (a) in a state of mental perplexity. [Familiar or informal usage]:

The female boarder in black attire looked so puzzled, and, in fact, all abroad (perplexed), after the delivery of this "counter" of mine, that I left her to recover her wits, and went on with the conversation. HOLMES.

He is such a poor, cracked, crazy creature, with his mind all abroad. A. TROLLOPS.

(6) having the senses confused; without complete control of one's organism [Familiar or informal usage]

At the twelfth round the latter champion was all abroad, as the saying is, and had lost all presence of mind and power of attack or defence. THACKERAY.

Meanwhile, spirits in this context could mean emotions, according to Oxford Living Dictionaries:

A person's mood or attitude.

In conclusion, while you have provided many different examples of usage for the idiom, spirits abroad, most of them refer to a general sense of emotions being either completely out of control or at least all over the place, or unbridled.

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