Often, when describing or referencing a group of people, you use terms that summarize them, such as farmer or smallholder farmers. What is the correct word for these terms?

Similar concepts:

  • a stereotype (but this has negative connotations)

  • a definition

In context:

As with any stereotype, the term smallholder farmer can incorrectly suggest a homogeneous group of people with identical situations.

  • 1
    generalisation? Aug 28, 2015 at 10:04
  • Category has more neutral meaning: A specifically defined division in a system of classification; a class.
    – user66974
    Aug 28, 2015 at 10:08
  • Characterization?
    – deadrat
    Aug 28, 2015 at 10:31
  • @chaslyfromUK or overgeneralization?
    – Mitch
    Sep 4, 2015 at 12:56

4 Answers 4


The term in statistics and information technology is characteristics.

The more down-to-earth term is archetype.

The verb characterize connotes finding out the commonalities of a group of entities. The noun for that act is characterization. The adjective is characteristic.

For example, characteristic behaviour of a hero is their self-less devotion to public good.

For example, when a company introduces a new CPU, their engineers will perform characterization on various information gathered from its fabrication, and from tests observed due to a set of stimuli.

And then they might find seven rather distinct groups of CPUs that resulted from variations that occur in their manufacturing. So, for example, an engineer might advise the marketing concerning one of the groups, saying "This group of CPUs is characteristic of low performing devices, suitable for being packaged and sold as equipment controllers."

A company engaging in online sales of its product would seek to characterize their customers. The result would be conclusions about any customers like, "This customer is characteristic of a ponderous, highly researched customer." This customer is archetypal of a middle-aged afternoon-sit-coms mom.

A political campaign too would perform characterization of members of the electorate. For example, one might conclude, the voters in southwest Iowa are characterized by their slow temper, love for corn dogs and their penchant for hiring illegal immigrants.

What are the characteristics of a true dog lover?

My mom is archetypal of a large-breed-dog lover. She buys dog food by the truck load.

The archetypal behaviour of a Canadian truck driver is their disregard for traffic etiquette on US highways.

A mom-and-pop store is characterized by their having family members as employees, avoidance of low profit margin items and their familiarity with the personalities of their customers.

OTOH, you should consider the term archetype.

For example, The Maine farmer is archetypical (more properly, archetypal) of the hardy but volatile New Englander. When climate change made it too wet for potatoes, they farmed trees instead, and in fact sold their land to large corporations and then to work as employees for the tree farms.

archetype (ˈɑːkɪˌtaɪp)

  1. a perfect or typical specimen
  2. an original model or pattern; prototype
  3. (Psychoanalysis) psychoanal one of the inherited mental images postulated by Jung as the content of the collective unconscious
  4. (Art Terms) a constantly recurring symbol or motif in literature, painting, etc
  5. (Literary & Literary Critical Terms) a constantly recurring symbol or motif in literature, painting, etc

[from Latin archetypum an original, from Greek arkhetupon, from arkhetupos first-moulded; see arch-, type]

Collins English Dictionary – Complete and Unabridged © HarperCollins Publishers 1991, 1994, 1998, 2000, 2003


  1. characterisation

    • a graphic or vivid verbal descriptioncharacterisation
    • a graphic or vivid verbal description; "too often the narrative was interrupted by long word pictures"; "the author gives a depressing picture of life in Poland"; "the pamphlet contained brief characterizations of famous Vermonters"

    characterization, delineation, depiction, word picture, word-painting, picture description, verbal description

    • a statement that represents something in words epithet
    • descriptive word or phrase

    portrait, portraiture, portrayal - a word picture of a person's appearance and character

  2. characterisation

    • the act of describing distinctive characteristics or essential features; "the media's characterization of Al Gore as a nerd"

    • the act of describing something

Based on WordNet 3.0, Farlex clipart collection. © 2003-2012 Princeton University, Farlex Inc.


An umbrella term is a word or phrase that covers a broad interval or set of functions or items that all fall under a single common category...The closely related blanket term is a word or phrase that is used to describe multiple groups of related things. From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia


The definition of a generic term is a word or phrase that is used to describe some general or vague group or class, rather than some specific thing.



2. a short word or phrase descriptive of a person, group, intellectual movement, etc.

3. a word or phrase indicating that what follows belongs in a particular category or classification, as the word Physics before a dictionary definition.

-Random House

As with any label, the term smallholder farmer can incorrectly suggest a homogeneous group of people with identical situations.

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