While reading PoPCo, by Scarlett Thomas, I learnt that the word avatar, which refers to an Internet user’s alter ego in online forums and other communities, comes from a Sanskrit word meaning descent of a deity to the Earth in incarnate form.
According to Wikipedia, it was popularised by Neal Stephenson’s Snow Crash (1992):
While Stephenson was not the first to apply the Sanskrit term avatar to online virtual bodies (the video game Habitat did that), the success of Snow Crash popularized the term to the extent that avatar is now the accepted term for this concept in computer games and on the World Wide Web.
I think I know what my next book will be.
Image: Vishnu with his 10 avatars (incarnations): Matsya, Kûrma, Varâha, Narasimha, Vâmana, Parashurâma, Râma with the Ax, Râma, Krishna, Bouddha and Kalki.