a stereotype or a prototype

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magic dragon feeders

Senior Member
I'd appreciate it if someone would answer my question. Thank you in advance.

A: The lion is the king of beasts.
I hear one of the functions of the definite article is to make generalizations about certain topics (e.g. lions, tulips, computers, doctors -----) One grammar book calls it a representative use, and calls "the lion" in A a stereotype, but another calls it a prototype. I'd like to know what the difference is and which is appropriate.
I myself used to use both, but I've been using the word "prototype" for about 10 years since I found it in a grammar book by Renaat Declerck.
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  • WyomingSue

    Senior Member
    I would consider the lion a prototype. If you look at the WR dictionary, you will see that a "stereotype" is considered a simplified, unoriginal way of thinking, and a "prototype" is something that illustrates typical qualities.
    I guess you could argue that calling the lion the king of beasts is too simplistic and you should take a more nuanced consideration of eagles, algae, and dogs … but that seems too painful of an argument.

    With a different example:
    Refugee as stereotype: "Refugees are uneducated and unemployable."
    Refugee as prototype: "After the Vietnam War, refugees from Southeast Asia had life-changing experiences, just as refugees from the Middle East have undergone since the war in Syria."
    (Apologies for history and philosophy--I was trying to come up with something on the spur of the moment.)


    Senior Member
    English - NW US
    Hmm... Not to overcomplicate things, but if I said "the lion" to evoke the lion-ness of lions then that is an archetype.

    A stereotype is a (usually pejorative) generalization.

    A prototype is a first-generation example of something.

    Uncle Jack

    Senior Member
    British English
    I can see why "stereotype" might be used in describing this usage, as often it is used for stereotypes ("The rich man in his castle, The poor man at his gate"), but this is not appropriate in your example.

    I can also see why "prototype" might be used, where the usage describes the ideal or original form.

    In your case, I agree with papakapp that "archetype" is the best fit, and I would be inclined to use "archetype" rather than "prototype" where the original form is meant. However, where a writer uses "the" + singular noun for a careless generalisation, I would have no hesitation in calling this a stereotype.


    Senior Member
    English - Northeast US
    I think "The Lion" is an archetype. It represents the entire species.

    But "king of the beasts"? That is a stereotype.
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