Avatar

Words are unpredictable, and that is what makes them fascinating. Sometimes they begin their life with a specific meaning, and then move into wider use. This is the case of  “avatar”.

“Avatar” comes from Sanskrit  avatarana “descent” (of a deity to the earth in incarnate form), from ava- “down” and  tarati- “(he) crosses over”, from Proto-Indo-European base *tere- “to cross over”.

It entered in English in 1784 meaning “descent of a Hindu deity”, that is, the incarnation of a divine being on earth in human form.

In a few decades, it was being used for the embodiment (as of a concept or philosophy) of a person or an idea, or as a variant phase or version of a continuing basic entity.

Then, in the late twentieth century, “avatar” took on a new life as a term in computer games: an electronic image that represents and is manipulated by a computer user.

“Avatar” is a noun meaning:

1. The incarnation of a Hindu deity.

2. An incarnation in human form.

3. An embodiment (as of a concept or philosophy) often in a person.

4. A variant phase or version of a continuing basic entity.

5. An electronic image that represents and is manipulated by a computer user (as in a computer game).

Examples:

She seems to be an avatar of happiness in her family circle.

He chose a Roman warrior as his avatar in the game.

The phonetic transcription for the word “avatar” is: /ˈavətɑː/

(NOTES:  Sanskrit: classical Indian literary language from 4c. B.C.E.; Proto-Indo-European: hypothetical reconstructed ancestral language, about 5.500 years ago).

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