Printable Version
Pronunciation: æ-vê-tah(r) Hear it!

Part of Speech: Noun

Meaning: 1. The incarnation of a Hindu deity in human form. 2. An epitome, archetype, or embodiment of something, as the avatar of good or evil. 3. (Computers, Web) A character or image assumed by a player in a computer or online game.

Notes: The blockbuster 3-D movie Avatar pushed this suggestion to the top of our list of suggested Good Words. I saw the movie and, even though I don't particularly like programmatic horror movies, this one is technically breath-taking. The name wanders a bit off course, since the good guys are really clones of themselves rather than incarnations of abstract ideals. But don't let that keep you away from the experience of it.

In Play: Avatars are abstract ideas in real (human) form: "Barney Smith was an avatar of the modern investment broker until his investment in derivatives destroyed his company in the 2008 banking crash." The source of our principles can usually be portrayed as avatars: "I would not have survived to adulthood had my mother not been an avatar of kindness and the unflickering cynosure of my teen years."

Word History: The original meaning of today's Good Word predicted its own future. The word comes from Sanskrit avatarah "descent" and the sense of this word has descended from the incarnation of a god to an image manipulated by someone in a computer game. The Sanskrit word comprises ava "down" + tarati "crosses over". The root of tarati also appears in tiram "brink" in Sanskrit (the oldest known Indo-European language), a sense that the Greek cast into its variation of the same word, terma "goal". Latin kept the sense of the original word in trans "across, over" but still used the newer sense in terminus "boundary, limit". (We would like to thank Perry Lassiter for coming across with today's Good Word, whether an avatar or not.)

Dr. Goodword,

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