Word of the Day


© Alamy Stock Photo


1. a picture on a computer screen that represents a particular computer user, especially one of several users who are having a conversation with each other on the internet

2. someone who is a perfect example of a particular quality or a particular type of person

View the full definition in the Macmillan Dictionary.

Origin and usage

The noun avatar comes from a Sanskrit word ‘avatāra’, meaning ‘descent’. It was first used in English in the late 18th century to refer to the descent of a deity, especially a Hindu one, to earth, in physical form. The computer meaning was first recorded in 1986.


Having initially been used to refer to deities appearing on earth in physical form, avatar subsequently came to mean any manifestation in human form and later an embodiment of an idea, quality, principle or other entity. In the mid 1980s the term started to be used to refer to an image of a person in a computer-generated environment such as a game or discussion group. As with other similar terms, the earlier meanings have been overshadowed by the most recent one, although according to director James Cameron the title of the phenomenally successful film Avatar alludes to its original meaning in Hindu theology.


“Give somebody an avatar and a URL, and he can’t tweet, post or hyperlink enough personal information about himself to as many people as possible.”
(John Ridley)

archetype, embodiment, incarnation, personification

Browse related words in the Macmillan Thesaurus.

About the author

Macmillan Dictionary

Macmillan Dictionary

Leave a Comment