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Propagandists often demonize people they don't like, from Native Americans to Communists. At the same time, truly evil people are often portrayed as patriots, philanthropists or all around good guys.

Can anyone suggest a good antonym of demonize or demonization, other than deify? I'm not crazy about it, because it sounds a little overboard. I don't think many people are truly portrayed as God-like. I'm looking for a similar word that simply describes a bad person who's portrayed as a Good Samaritan.

Here's an example of how I want to use the word (if it exists):

The government demonized Native Americans for several decades.

The corporate media ______ George W. Bush and Bill Gates, portraying them as a patriot and a philanthropist, respectively.

Update

Awesome discussion! Lionize and idolize are among my favorites, though glorify got the most votes by far.

In one of my comments, I mentioned whitewash, which is very clearly a political term (though not limited to politics exclusively). The problem is that whitewash has a connotation of repairing damage; when a person does something bad, we whitewash their record. Therefore, it was hard to imagine how propagandists could "whitewash" a person with a neutral record.

But I took another look at whitewash after AshleyZ suggested it as an answer. In fact, the first definition offered by Merriam-Webster is "to make (something) whiter by painting it with whitewash."

It's clearly referring to an object (not a person) that's being literally painted. The second definition suggests a coverup of a person. But if we extrapolate, I think we could argue that whitewashing can loosely cover the broad spectrum of propaganda designed to make people look good, which can be divided into three areas:

1) Traditional whitewashing, where one is praised as a "philanthropist" or a "patriot" AFTER one does something bad.

2) Pre-emptive whitewashing, where one is similarly praised even before doing anything bad (or before anyone learns that you've done something bad).

3) General whitewashing - where the goal is to simply make a person, organization or group look good. An example might be Christians who think they're "the chosen people."

Of course, this is all personal opinion. Strictly speaking, it would appear that only the first example above is definitively covered by the term whitewashing.

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3  
Do you really want imply that the two people you mentioned are truly evil? I think you are asking a good question (and I upvoted it), but I also think your example is too political. – ab2 Jan 26 at 2:22
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Perhaps lionize? – Elliott Frisch Jan 26 at 2:27
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@DavidBlomstrom - lionize is so much better than the crappy religious terms here. It emphasizes nobility: ie Richard the Lionheart. Over at vocabulary.com, Ronald Reagan is the example persona for lionized. I was about to submit it as an answer, and found it up here in the comments. – stevesliva Jan 26 at 4:54
5  
Whatever your personal opinion or polls may reveal, and however close those opinions may be to the truth, I think your choice of example has already caused a great deal of distraction, both for readers and yourself. You should choose a less controversial example, perhaps from the rich array of fictional characters that may make the word your after even clearer. "The pirates in Neverland demonized Peter Pan and ____ Captain Hook." – JDB Jan 26 at 15:46
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I'm a bit disappointed that whitewash was selected as the best answer to this question. To me, lionize and idolize are far better choices, in the context of when you would choose demonize in the first place... – Tim Ward Jan 29 at 20:56

21 Answers 21

up vote 7 down vote accepted

To whitewash is to ignore someone's bad actions, or focus on their accomplishments in the absence of context that would otherwise make them look bad. You might also want to consider framing: when their side kills first responders, it's terrorism; when our side does it, it's a signature strike.

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Glorified may fit your case rather perfectly

adj. (of something or someone ordinary or unexceptional) represented as or appearing more elevated or special than is the case.

[Google Definitions]

Thus, in your case,

The corporate media glorified George W. Bush and Bill Gates, portraying them as a patriot and a philanthropist, respectively.

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That's a good suggestion (I voted it up), though I'm hoping to find something that has a more obvious political connection - e.g. whitewashed. Unfortunately, whitewashed is more narrowly restricted to censoring or covering up crimes. But I may wind up using glorified... – David Blomstrom Jan 26 at 2:23
    
@DavidBlomstrom - Assuming you aren't strictly looking for an antonym of demonize and considering only your example sentence, I was thinking to myself about using the words exaggerated and false propaganda. However, they don't really answer the question. – BiscuitBoy Jan 26 at 2:27
    
Wow, I wasn't even familiar with the term "false propaganda." It's still a little problematic, as it can describe demonization as well as its polar opposite. Still, it's a good thing to add to my vocabulary. In fact, it might turn out to be the best answer to my question. – David Blomstrom Jan 26 at 2:31
    
To me the problem with this word is it is almost always associated with a religious tone (although I agree there's too much of that in US politics these days, too)... – Tim Ward Jan 26 at 2:53
    
@TimWard It definitely does not hold any kind of religious connotation to me. "Glorified" is used all the time to refer to people doing jobs that sound important but boil down to something less, like an "administrative assistant" being a "glorified secretary". – DCShannon Jan 28 at 2:16

One word that came to mind that isn't already listed is lionize.

Oxford Dictionaries defines it as:

Give a lot of public attention and approval to (someone); treat as a celebrity:

The Free Dictionary defines it as:

to treat (a person) as a celebrity.

Vocabulary.com defines it as:

To lionize someone is to see them as important as a lion. Republicans continue to lionize Ronald Reagan as their ultimate hero.

For example,

The corporate media lionized George W. Bush and Bill Gates, portraying them as a patriot and a philanthropist, respectively.

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2  
While lionize technically doesn't quite capture the religious connotations that "demonize" has, it is in fact both the word I'd pick were I writing, and the word I believe I'd most likely hear another native writer use in this context. The other answers are all good too, but only in specific context. This is the general word. – T.E.D. Jan 26 at 20:13
    
Thanks alot for teaching me this word. Never encountered it before (as a C1 level non-native speaker). – hiergiltdiestfu Jan 28 at 14:22
    
@hiergiltdiestfu You might be interested in this comic regarding your misspelling. – March Ho Jan 28 at 14:45
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@MarchHo That's a pretty condescending response to an honest thank you, but I admit I had to laugh at the Alot Of Mist. Unrelated and OT: Did you know that the German word Mist means crap in English? //// for this comment I looked up: spelling of condescending, using an or a with honest, other translations of Mist – hiergiltdiestfu Jan 28 at 15:54

You could consider using to idolize which means:

To adore excessively; to revere immoderately.

Idol is broadly used to mean:

A person or thing that is greatly admired, loved, or revered.

Wikipedia defines idol as:

An idol is an image or other material object representing a deity to which religious worship is addressed or any person or thing regarded with admiration, adoration, or devotion.

We use the noun idolization when we refer to the excessive worshiping of the North Korean leaders, Kim Il Sung, Kim Jong Il, and Kim Jong Eun by North Korean people.

It is just an example of the usage and the word fits in the context where someone is excessively admired or revered.

[Wiktionary, Oxford Online Dictionary]

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2  
This is a bit different in that demonise is about portraying someone negatively but idolising often means someone's personal perception. – SuperBiasedMan Jan 26 at 10:30
    
@SuperBiasedMan I know what you mean, but personal perception is often times influenced by the media. That's why I thought it would be relevant. – Rathony Jan 26 at 11:00
    
@Rathony: I like your 'idolise/idolize' in that it suggests the idea of 'false gods', 'idols', as opposed to the true God. As with 'demonise/demonize' there is the implied notion that it is ethically questionable to do so. – user58319 Jan 26 at 22:06
    
+1 This both can reasonably be considered an appropriate antonym of the original AND fits the political context. – Chris Sunami Jan 27 at 18:28
    
I think that saying that the media idolizes someone implies that they like them alot, not that they're trying to convince others to like them a lot, so this doesn't seem to quite fit. That being said, if the media glorifies someone, they probably idolize them. – DCShannon Jan 27 at 21:58

To contrast with 'demonize', in the same moral domain, I suggest

sanctify tr.v.
....
4. To give social or moral sanction to: "The only books I wanted to read as a teenager were those sanctified by my elders and betters" (David Eggers).

[sanctify. (n.d.) American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fifth Edition. (2011). Retrieved January 25 2016 from http://www.thefreedictionary.com/sanctify ]

An example from 2006:

On Iran, the U.S. policy has been irrational ever since the 1979 revolution. But Bush has divorced it from reality altogether. That Ahmadinejad calls the Holocaust a myth and wants to wipe Israel off the map does not sanctify Bush's vacuity.

(From "India not a nuclear weapon state, says US" at Pakistan Defence site.)


Another good choice, in the same domain and along the same lines, would be

canonize tr.v.
....
5. To treat as sacred; glorify.

[canonize. (n.d.) American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fifth Edition. (2011). Retrieved January 25 2016 from http://www.thefreedictionary.com/canonize ]

An example containing both 'canonize' and 'sanctify' from 2003:

That is where "DC 9/11" is destined to make you tear up or tear out your own hair, depending on your political persuasion. Producer-writer Lionel Chetwynd, whose lengthy credits include "The Apprenticeship of Duddy Kravitz," is clearly out to canonize Bush as noble leader steering a troubled nation through trauma. Hollywood loves to do this with wartime presidents: Abraham Lincoln, Woodrow Wilson and FDR enjoyed such bio-pic eulogizing. They were dead, though, and long out of office. Chetwynd is eager to sanctify a president who hasn't yet won re-election, probably some sort of new record in premature Hollywood historical treacle. Let talk radio rail against those show business lefties all they want: Bush has a friend in Chetwynd.

(From "'9/11' delivers emotional kick: Pro-Bush portrayal ends up too preachy", Chicago Tribune, September 05, 2003.)

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I agree. "Sanctify" is the most correct answer if religious connotations are to be kept. From a theological standpoint "demonize" and "idolize" are more synonyms than antonyms. They both mean defying something that is less than God. – Tomas Walch Jan 31 at 10:18

Consider,

exalt

To elevate by praise or in estimation : glorify M-W

extol

To praise highly : glorify M-W

adulate

To show excessive admiration of or devotion to; flatter or admire servilely. Random House

big up

Slang To promote or aggrandize the importance, quality, or positive aspects of someone or something. Farlex Dictionary of Idioms

overpraise

To praise or commend excessively WordReference

pedestal/put on a pedestal

To behave as if one person is more important than others They put the local doctor on a pedestal, seldom questioning his word or his authority. Professional athletes are often put on a pedestal, and they forget that the fans pay their salaries. Cambridge Dictionary of American Idioms

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Upvoted for 'exalt'. – nekomatic Jan 26 at 16:00

If you want a fairly direct antonym, beatify is a ritual of the Catholic church that declares a person holy and blessed --typically a deceased person on the path to sainthood. The term can also be used more generally to mean to bless, glorify or exalt.

http://www.thefreedictionary.com/beatify

Unfortunately I'm not aware, however, of the term currently being used in any political context.

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Sorry, but I'll have to pass on beatify, though it's a good suggestion. It simply has a religious rather than a political context. – David Blomstrom Jan 26 at 3:36
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Beatify was the first thing that came to my mind. +1 – Charon Jan 26 at 16:00
    
This was also my first thought, mainly because of the religious connotation: a "demon" is (by one definition) a fallen angel. The word "beatify" is used in a political context, for example, here: israelnationalnews.com/Articles/Article.aspx/13327#.VqqBWlJUWDR or here: gawker.com/… (controversial statements, but that's often the nature of political discourse). It does seem to be relatively rare, however. – David K Jan 28 at 21:09

These days, it seems political praise is what delineates the two main parties. But we've heard praise used this way for a long time, when politics is concerned.

CNN Split; Political Analysts Praise Obama Speech...

North Korea’s Kim Boosts Propaganda In Praise Of Nuke Test

Poetry in Praise of Adolf Hitler

From Etymonline.com:

c. 1300, "to laud, commend, flatter," from Old French preisier, variant of prisier "to praise, value," from Late Latin preciare, earlier pretiare (see price (n.)). Replaced Old English lof, hreþ.

I particularly like the relationship to flattery.

But if you'd prefer another, I could recommend commend, extol, honor, or acclaim, and maybe most of all, celebrate.

These each have slightly different connotations. Celebrate is in some ways the most appropriate because it is the most mundane and usually associated with riches and power... something that politicians find irresistible.

Related to celebrate, you'll find that acclaim also fits with the idea of a kind of social merit that ties to popularity.

Acclaim:

verb (used with object) 1. to welcome or salute with shouts or sounds of joy and approval; applaud: to acclaim the conquering heroes. 2. to announce or proclaim with enthusiastic approval: to acclaim the new king.

Celebrate:

verb (used with object), celebrated, celebrating. 1. to observe (a day) or commemorate (an event) with ceremonies or festivities: to celebrate Christmas; to celebrate the success of a new play. 2. to make known publicly; proclaim: The newspaper celebrated the end of the war in red headlines. 3. to praise widely or to present to widespread and favorable public notice, as through newspapers or novels: a novel celebrating the joys of marriage; the countryside celebrated in the novels of Hardy. 4. to perform with appropriate rites and ceremonies; solemnize: to celebrate a marriage.

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I voted your answer up, but I'm afraid I can't choose it as the correct answer. I'd like to find something a little more specific - more political. One can praise one's parents or siblings, but people seldom demonize their relatives. Similarly, I'd like to find a word that is more commonly restricted to politics, like demonize. – David Blomstrom Jan 26 at 2:51
    
Oh @DavidBlomstrom... I'm glad you think people seldom demonize their relatives. That's very nice. :) – Tim Ward Jan 26 at 2:51
    
I'm sure some people do demonize their relatives. ;) However, I think the word demonize is more closely associated with the political arena. In other news, it's amazing how many gaps there are in the political vocabulary. I've searched for a number of political terms without success. – David Blomstrom Jan 26 at 3:00
    
@DavidBlomstrom, I think what you mean to say is that it's difficult to find very many words that praise our politicians, words that are used more often just with politics. Well, I'd like to say that one shouldn't be surprised... but I think that has more to do with the fact that we don't have many words at all that are special to politics. We use them every day for all sorts of events, not just politics. – Tim Ward Jan 26 at 3:09
    
Yes, that's true. It's also unfortunate, because I think there's a need for a richer political vocabulary. On the other hand, the lack thereof gives me an excuse to coin new terms. ;) – David Blomstrom Jan 26 at 3:11

Two suggestions that exemplify that, like demonizing, there is an element of excessiveness:

belauded

to praise usually to excess

[Merriam Webster]

talked up

to discuss favorably : advocate, promote <talk up the new product>

[Merriam Webster]

As in:

The corporate media belauded / talked up George W. Bush and Bill Gates, portraying them as a patriot and a philanthropist, respectively.

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1  
Closely related: "Laud" – Stig Hemmer Jan 26 at 10:06

valorize is also possible. I've seen this mostly in academic writing. It appears the primary meaning is to give something a value, but a second meaning is to increase the value.

I think it's used more for ideas than people. For the specific example posed by OP, I like lionize, though laud is also good.

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"Canonise" was going to be my first suggestion, but there's already a good answer with that.

So I'll put forth fete:

to pay high honor to

(Merriam Webster)

(I picked the most relevant definition).

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Though I think "to glorify" fits your description best I'd also put forward a less common verb:

transfigure

Transform into something more beautiful or elevated

(Oxford Dictionaries)

I would use this one when the transformed representation of the object lacks any resemblance to it's original. i.E. When describing an earthworm as a butterfly

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This is a noun, not a verb, but hagiography isn't a bad fit. It was originally used in a religious context, but nowadays can be used outside of religion, so it's both a good literal and metaphorical antonym:

A hagiography is a biography of a saint or an ecclesiastical leader.

... when referring to modern, non-ecclesiastical works, the term hagiography is often used as a pejorative reference to biographies and histories whose authors are perceived to be uncritical or reverential to their subject.

(Wikipedia)

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Though this captures the idea of the opposite, it is a noun, and I can't think of a way to make it a verb. – Mitch Jan 26 at 12:37

If demonize means to portray something as worse than it is, then the opposite would be:

Romanticize: to think about or describe something as being better or more attractive or interesting than it really is

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Oh, dear, I think people are just banging down any word that might vaguely be a synonym of an earlier suggestion, rather than an antonym of "demonize", and are ignoring collocation, context, register, syntax, and meaning, There are no true synonyms, and all the suggestions made so far differ subtly in all those aspects.

Sticking to the register and domain of "demonize", I would strongly support the earlier suggestions of "beatify" and "canonize" as opposites of "demonize": they belong to the same literal domain, i.e. religion and politics. They can both be modified, e.g. by "practically, almost" etc., to highlight their non-literal use, and are used in political discourse. I cite some authentic examples as follows: "The late John Denver, for instance, practically beatified his wife Annie in 'Annie's Song',..." Scotland on Sunday; "John Mortimer [a well-known British writer] was beatified by the scurrilous pinkoes at the Beeb [=BBC], in the form of Alan Yentob on BBC1 last night,..." British blog; "...the show savages the royal family while canonising Princess Diana, who died in a car crash in Paris in 1997." Daily Dispatch Online, South Africa.

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Are you looking for idealization ?

http://dictionary.cambridge.org/dictionary/english/idealize

However, this answer and the others (imho) don't exactly fit the idea you are describing.

You want to say "this guy is only known for specific ideas he has or he represents in people's mind, but their application would be terrible in practice."

To me, it feels like you want to say "A group of person idealised a faker".

If you want to give a more political or philosophical meaning in your expression, then we are looking for a word saying "to idealize a sophist".

In any case, I think "idealization" is the global idea because it exactly says "The attention you grant to something is based on illusions".

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eulogise

eulogize somebody/something (as something) (formal) to praise somebody/something very highly

  • He was eulogized as a hero.

(Oxford Advanced Learner's Dictionary)

means to praise highly in speech or writing

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Isn't eulogize usually used after someone has died? – DCShannon Jan 27 at 22:00
    
@DCShannon: that connotation is attached more to the noun eulogy. – sumelic Jan 28 at 1:48
    
From MW: "to say or write good things about (someone or something); especially : to praise (someone who has died) in a eulogy". Note the "especially". Looked into it a tad more, and even when used in regards to a living person, "eulogize" is after something has ended, even if it's not their life. You might eulogize a coworker after they retire. – DCShannon Jan 28 at 2:12

I suggest spin with a slightly modified sentence:

The corporate media spun George W. Bush as a patriot and Bill Gates as a philanthropist.

spin
verb, intransitive

7 : to engage in spin control (as in politics)

source: Merriam-Webster

And the definition for spin control—though it refers to an event, I think that it can be stretched to cover a person when the nature of the spin is stated, as in my example sentence.

spin control
noun

1 : the act or practice of attempting to manipulate the way an event is interpreted by others

2 : the activity of trying to control the way something (such as an important event) is described to the public in order to influence what people think about it

source: Merriam-Webster

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A lot of legitimate suggestions, but consider evangelize as antonym to demonize:

evangelize (verb) (OPINIONS): to ​talk about how good you ​think something is: I ​wish she would ​stop evangelizing about the ​virtues of ​free ​market ​economics.

demonize (verb): to ​try to make someone or a ​group of ​people ​seem ​completely ​evil: The ​mayor demonizes anyone who ​disagrees with him.

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They are not direct antonyms. Evangelize is conveying a belief in an attempt at persuasion (i.e. Preach) either for good or bad, Demonize is to always paint in a bad light. You could for instance use both in the same meaning: The priest evangelized us about Baal, demonizing the pagan deity. – Mindwin Jan 26 at 10:58
    
I agree that you can preach for or against something, but you can not evangelize in the negative. The provided definition is to "talk about how good ...". I understand evangelization in the example provide to not be in favor if Ball, rather an unnamed reference, using Baal as a counterpoint – Ian W Jan 26 at 11:38
    
"talk about how good you think." - for example, If we get a satanist priest, he might think Baal is a good thing. Once it went into the subjective gray area, anything goes. You are too focused on the christian meaning the word conveys, but that is not the case in the Q&A above. – Mindwin Jan 26 at 12:35

Another word is apotheosize:

  1. (Theology) to deify
  2. to glorify or idealize

(Collins English Dictionary – Complete and Unabridged, 12th Edition 2014.)

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A demon in the strictest sense is a supernatural character, and one common meaning of the word "demon" is "fallen angel." When we say in a political context that someone (or soemthing) has been demonized, I believe there is a secondary religious connotation in addition to the primary political meaning.

Far from ruling out words with religious connotations, therefore, if I were looking for an antonym for "demonize" I would welcome a word with religious connotations if it were sufficiently opposite in meaning.

So, for example, in the entry for "demon" in Thesaurus.com gives "angel" and "god" as antonyms, and for "demonize", Thesaurus.com gives antonyms canonize, celebrate, and honor. Of these, in my opinion only canonize expresses a good opinion nearly as strong as the bad opinion expressed by "demonize".

Note also that when one demonizes one's political opponents, one does not usually use the word "demon". It is rather the opponents themselves, or their friends, who will say that you are "demonizing" someone. Similarly, one occasionally sees opinion pieces such as this that say someone is "beatifying" someone or something. (Beatification is the next-to-last step toward canonization of a saint.) This supports using beatify as an antonym, as already suggested in another answer, although by the analogy with the path to sainthood, "beatify" is a weaker term than "canonize".

Recalling the "fallen angel" connotation of "demon", a Google search for "opposite of demon" gives the antonyms "angel" and "saint". We already have "canonize" and "beatify" as words connoting making someone into a saint; but what about making someone into an angel? To my genuine surprise, it turns out there is a word for this; in fact there are two words for it. From Merriam-Webster's free online dictionary:

angelify : to make into or like an angel : angelize

From The Free Dictionary:

An`gel´i`fy v. t. 1. To make like an angel; to angelize.

Also from The Free Dictionary:

An´gel`ize v. t. 1. To raise to the state of an angel; to render angelic.

It ought not to be our object to angelize, nor to brutalize, but to humanize man. - W. Taylor.

Now, before someone objects that "angelify" and "angelize" refer to actually making someone into an angel, rather than merely comparing them to an angel, let me point out that the first sense of "demonize" (at least according to The Free Dictionary) is literally to turn [someone] into a demon.

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