Who uses it: Online gamers and computer programmers
What it means: A computer image that represents your online presence
How you can use it: When preparing a face to meet the faces that you meet.
"Avatar" comes from the Sanskrit word for the manifestation of the divine, a face of God. Hinduism considers each avatar a unique revelation of truth.
In our culture, we make avatars of movie stars and sports figures. On the one hand, that's understandable -- they're the faces we see most, outside our immediate families -- but it's also baffling. Movie stars get where they are by pretending to feel things they don't and be things they aren't, and sports figures play games for money. Both groups of people misbehave as regularly as anyone else, if not more often, because they have more opportunities to do so.
It's on my mind because of the two news stories that occupied most of my attention this morning: the miners lost in West Virginia, and Virginia Tech's triumph yesterday over Louisville in the Gator Bowl.
The 13 West Virginia miners went to work at 6:30 in the morning on a federal holiday, in a mine that had received 144 safety violation citations in 2005. The most recently updated AP article I read about the disaster did not give the name of even one of these men.
The Virginia Tech football team played a game in Jacksonville, Florida, before a television audience of millions. Marcus Vick, Virginia Tech's quarterback, stomped on the back of a Louisville player's knee in a fit of pique just before the end of the game's first half.
But -- it hardly needs saying -- Marcus Vick is the one who'll be getting the Nike contract. It's Marcus Vick's name we'll all know five years from now, when no one but their families will remember the names of the lost miners, and most of us will never hear those names at all.
I'm not saying this is wrong, because I don't have the slightest idea of how it could ever change. But it makes me thoughtful, and a little sad.