The noun a stereotype is an unthinking assumption that all members of a particular group are virtually identical. OED has "A preconceived and oversimplified idea of the characteristics which typify a person, situation, etc.; an attitude based on such a preconception. Also, a person who appears to conform closely to the idea of a type."
- Stereotype is pronounced with the first '-e-' (which is stressed) like that of 'get', and the second like the 'i-' of 'it' (the third is silent): the '-o-' is a schwa ('STERR-y-er-type', IPA: /ˈstɛr ɪ ə taɪp/). Some make more of an 'oh' sound in the middle, ('STERR-y-oh-type', IPA: /ˈstɛr ɪ əʊ taɪp/).
Stereotypes are a form of lazy thinking. To use one about a person is to trivialize that person's individuality, which is likely to be offensive. Nevertheless, used carefully, a stereotype may be a useful mental tool, particularly in the social sciences: a mental picture of 'a typical elderly patient' may help in managing the NHS, or of 'a typical DE socioeconomic woman' may be helpful in marketing. Nevertheless, in many subjects, such as the arts, and in ordinary usage, stereotypes are to be avoided.
There is an adjective stereotypical ('sterr-y-oh-TIP-ical', IPA: /stɛr ɪ ə (or əʊ) ˈtɪp ɪk əl/), and a participial adjective stereotyped ('STERR-y-er-typed', IPA: /ˈstɛr ɪ ə (or əʊ) taɪpt/). The latter is a form of the verb 'to stereotype', which means 'to describe someone or something in a way that reflects assumptions about the nature of the group rather than the individual'.
- Etymological note: The word stereotype in the current academic sense is a dead metaphor. Its literal use was in the printing trade, where it was coined. A stereotype was a single block (usually of papier-mâché or plaster) cast from a page originally set with single letters, etc ('letterpress'). The word was derived from two Greek originals: στερεὸς‚ (stereos, 'solid') and τὺπος‚ (tupos, 'type'). The modern use came from French.