Easily Confused Words: Prototypical vs. Stereotypical

Prototypical and stereotypical are easily confused words.

The spell-check application of most word processing software programs would not catch a slip-up of these two words. Spell-check is looking for words that aren’t in its dictionary, and words that resemble words in its dictionary, but are possibly spelled wrong. Spell-check isn’t perfect. It doesn’t know and can’t guess what word you wanted, or what word you meant, it can only judge the words on the page. If you used words that are all spelled correctly, it gives you a pass anyway.

Autocorrect suggests words that start with the same letters. It’s suggesting what word you may want to save time, but quite often, its suggestions are pretty off base. They don’t help you out, but they do make you laugh.

Prototypical (“proh-toe-tih-pih-kuhl”) is an adjective. It describes something that is an example or model for identical things to be made in the near future. [The related noun, “prototype,” means the sample or model made in advance of mass production. The prototype enables final decisions to be made about materials, size, weight, color, packaging, etc.]

In a more figurative sense, someone could be called a prototype when they exhibit desirable behaviors, talents, or characteristics.

Stereotypical (“stare-ee-oh-tih-pih-kuhl”) is an adjective. It describes things repeatedly attributed to one group of people. These things are usually negative or demeaning. They do not reflect an absolute pertaining to all people in a group, or some inescapable reality.

Stereotypes:

  • exploit and exaggerate physical appearances
  • claim _____ are deceitful about money, business, love & sex, or a combination of these things.
  • claim ____ are unattractive for hiring or relationships
  • claim ______ are simple minded because of a disability or sensory issue
  • claim ______ lack work ethic
  • claim ______ have too much ambition they embarrass others, and are a threat

Here’s some links to pages that discuss these images in TV, Film & Internet and why they’re problematic:

The following story uses both words correctly:

Proteus was almost done with one of his first animation projects for school. It had taken months to put together, so it was good to see the end of the semester arriving soon. He was proud of the film. He felt it was an intriguing horror story, and was a prototypical of things to come. He hoped to do a series of horror films.

He asked his friend Stacia to watch it and provide her thoughts. “Wow that was thrilling movie, Proteus. The images and action are all sharp, but..”

“But what?”

“The girlfriend seems pretty stereotypical, don’t you think?”

 

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