I am looking for a word which describes the act of taking someone famous or respected, an idol, and turning them into a symbol of what they represent instead of a person, i.e. they lose their human characteristics and become a sort of god which other people can worship.

I find this really difficult to describe, but it should fit in these types of sentences:

  1. The novel does not ______ Wilfred Owen, which in turn allows the audience to see him as a normal man with problems they can relate with.
  2. The biography over-_______ Bill Gates, which is a shame because the audience is left uninterested in his stories and detached from him as a character.
  3. She's ______(past tense) him completely, creating a soulless effigy of the person he represents.

Maybe the word means the act of making an idol out of someone? But I don't think it is idolising....

  • 8
    Why not just "idolize"? May 5, 2016 at 10:39
  • 3
    @MaxWilliams because idolise means to admire greatly, not turn someone into an emotionless symbol of the (heroic and noble) qualities they represent.
    – minseong
    May 5, 2016 at 10:42
  • 3
    The verb idolize could indeed be inserted into those example sentences. It's the word one would expect to see there. Although the second one suggests that there is a certain degree of idolizing that would not be inappropriate for Bill Gates :)
    – TimR
    May 5, 2016 at 12:14
  • Though it really doesn't work with the example sentences (it's not a verb), a hagiography is used for accounts which turn people into "a sort of god". -- "Hagiographize" would work in the sentences, except it's not a word found in the OED (although it is attested in Google searches).
    – R.M.
    May 5, 2016 at 17:13
  • 1
    Does it have to be just one word? If not there's a good expression for this: e.g. "The novel does not put Wilfred Owen on a pedestal, which allows the audience to see him as a normal man..." - it's like idolize but has the unambiguously negative connotation you're looking for oxforddictionaries.com/definition/english/… - there's also "warts and all" which represents the opposite idea May 6, 2016 at 12:47

10 Answers 10


Try deify It should suffice. It means to worship, regard or treat (someone or something) as a god or to make a god of (something or someone).

  • Yeah, something like that, but I also want this word to connote lacking human qualities, becoming emotionless and thus making it difficult for a reader to associate/relate with the character.
    – minseong
    May 5, 2016 at 10:35
  • @theonlygusti I feel like people have a hard time relating directly to gods. That's why religions and myths are replete with prophets, messengers, and other intermediaries. One could argue the entire Christian faith is based on the creation of a being whose primary purpose was to bridge the divide between the Christian God and His worshippers. May 5, 2016 at 13:07
  • @theonlygusti I think that this word does all of those things, and that this is the best answer for that reason.
    – DCShannon
    May 6, 2016 at 2:37

Consider iconize

Treat as an icon: they iconized him as an iron-jawed symbol of American manhood

Icon is defined as

A person or thing regarded as a representative symbol of something: this iron-jawed icon of American manhood

Similarly, but with more negative connotatoins, there is caricature (both verb and noun)

Make or give a comically or grotesquely exaggerated representation of (someone or something):

he was caricatured on the cover of TV Guide

a play that caricatures the legal profession

Oxford Dictionaries Online

  • Yes! Great answer! Although, I prefer the British spelling xD
    – minseong
    May 5, 2016 at 13:19
  • @theonlygusti -ize with a zed is a perfectly acceptable British spelling; it's only recently that -ise became popular.
    – Angelos
    May 5, 2016 at 16:58
  • An icon and an idol are not the same thing; and iconise or iconize is not something writing does.....
    – Lambie
    May 5, 2016 at 17:45
  • 1
    I guess that works in terms of the definition. I don't think this word is particularly common, though.
    – DCShannon
    May 6, 2016 at 2:40
  • 1
    @DCShannon The adjective iconic is much more common.
    – bib
    May 6, 2016 at 10:54

How about iconify - http://www.thefreedictionary.com/Iconify

An icon is less than a person: it represents specific qualities and is thus much "simpler" than a real person.

  • 1
    This would be good if it existed, but even your example redirects to icon; is there a real citation somewhere? May 5, 2016 at 16:23
  • 1
    @TimLymington now you mention it most definitions relate to turning computer windows into icons or somesuch. I think the marked-as-correct "iconize" is probably what i was thinking of. May 5, 2016 at 16:30

There is 'sanctify'

verb (used with object), sanctified, sanctifying.

1 - to make holy; set apart as sacred; consecrate.


In the case of 'sanctify', of course no-one is suggesting in this context that the object is actually made holy, or becomes saintly, but it would be understood as a metaphor for the intended meaning here.

1.The novel does not sanctify Wilfred Owen, which in turn allows the audience to see him as a normal man with problems they can relate with.


How about dehumanise?

to deprive of human qualities or attributes; divest of individuality

  • 1
    I thought this is applicable only in a negative context such as Burmese govt. has dehumanized its ethnic Rohingya minority
    – senseiwu
    May 6, 2016 at 12:03

I agree with deify, but in that vain, perhaps also "canonize" could work?


Of course it's only the Catholic Church who can do this - and only after the person is dead; but as more loosely defined, canonize would fit what you describe - turning the person into a saint (and on a pedestal) to only be revered... but without the "Godly"-aspect of deify.

  • 2
    in that vein (blood vessel). :)
    – Mari-Lou A
    May 6, 2016 at 6:05


: to deify or clothe with a divine character : exalt, glorify.



The lion is the king of beasts. To lionize someone is to see them as important as a lion. Republicans continue to lionize Ronald Reagan as their ultimate hero.



Elevate to, or as if to, the rank of god; idolize.

Oxford Dictionaries

In apotheosizing Obama, they suggest that it is his destiny to bring balance to the races and move us toward a better America.

The University of Texas at Austin



Raise to a higher rank or position: this naturally exalts the peasant above his brethren in the same rank of society

Make noble in character; dignify. "romanticism liberated the imagination and exalted the emotions"



  1. to cause to be or treat as being more splendid, excellent, etc., than would normally be considered.
  2. to honor with praise, admiration, or worship; extol.
  3. to make glorious; invest with glory.

Although not what I went with in the end, I later realised this could also have been equally applicable (in my case) and so am posting it for the benefit of future readers.

Glorify, to me at least, somewhat connotes being respected/idolised more than is necessary, which is the mood I wanted to present with my word choice.


What about objectify?

"to treat (someone) as an object rather than as a person"

Has a slightly negative connotation, as demonstrated in the sample sentence from Merriam-Webster.com:

"She says beauty pageants objectify women."

More positive than "dehumanize", though. Still true, I think, of what we do to celebrities, culturally speaking.

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