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Not so long ago the word 'avatar' hit the English language from its native Sanskrit in which it meant the visitation, or the bodily form taken during the visitation, of a god to the world of humans. In Hinduism, of course, there are many deities, some with many such bodily forms, so the notion of 'avatar' would be widespread and having a single word to describe the concept most useful.
Well, when I say not so long ago, it was in the late 18th century that the word 'avatar' made it to the Oxford Dictionary, one of the many words incorporated at that time of European expansion into Asia such as the notion of 'cot' as a bed and any number of food types (yes, curry and all its accompaniments, too).
Back to the 'avatar'. Within a hundred years of English usage, 'avatar' had moved from the incarnation or embodiment of a deity to the embodiment of an idea or almost any manifestation. It usually kept the association of power.
It took the development of the science fiction and fantasy genres, principally in the 20th century, to relaunch the word. I'm not sure but I think I first encountered the concept of the embodiment or manifestation of a character, possibly magical and powerful, in the work of Tim Powers, or maybe Aldiss. It was certainly back in the 70s or so.
Then came the explosion of computer games and online groups in which, for the first time, one could create an image to represent one's own character or the character one was developing within a game. And, finally, 'avatar' moved from being an obscure, albeit interesting, word to one which we could assume was part of most people's general knowledge.
An 'avatar' may now be an everyday thing, but do you remember when you first bumped into it?