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Is there a term that describes reducing a person's identity to certain characteristics, behaviours or traits that are not physical? The term should have a negative connotation. I've heard the expression "putting people in boxes", but it's not just about stereotyping, but about making those qualities their whole identity. For example, when we focus on someone's flaws, or one flaw, and don't see anything else.

here's how the sentence would go: "The issue with all the previous thoughts is that they come from a self-centred, judgemental, WORD attitude".

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  • 2
    You could objectify someone, and that's insulting if you reduce them to their looks or their shape. Mar 22, 2023 at 22:13
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    Obviously, it's "characterizing".
    – Hot Licks
    Mar 22, 2023 at 22:30
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    Why doesn't stereotyping fit? You seem to be talking about reducing somebody to a single characteristic.
    – Stuart F
    Mar 22, 2023 at 22:53
  • This is what natal horoscopes and Myers-Briggs tests do. They categorize personalities with regard to their own sets of categories. Mar 23, 2023 at 15:43
  • The attitude in your example would be "ignorant" or "narrow-minded", and they could all replace "WORD". But that doesn't address what you've described in the body of the question
    – Wolfie
    Mar 24, 2023 at 17:19

7 Answers 7

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This can be called typecasting someone. The term originally comes from acting, but it is often used metaphorically; TfD defines it as:

To perceive or represent [someone] in reductive or stereotyped ways

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  • Thank you! Is there an adjective version of this word?
    – Maria CW
    Mar 22, 2023 at 23:39
  • @MariaCW There is not a related adjective, unfortunately; typecast is just a verb.
    – alphabet
    Mar 23, 2023 at 0:25
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    Typecast is an adjective: OED type-cast, adj. 1. Formed into type for printing. 1876 This hammer..carries at its extremity a type~cast letter. -- 2. Of an actor, etc.: that has been type-cast (see type-cast v.); identified with a particular kind of part. Also transferred and in extended use. -- 1982 One gets the feeling she's typecast in her show.
    – Greybeard
    Mar 23, 2023 at 11:27
  • @MariaCW typecasting is an adjective that fits in your example sentence
    – minseong
    Mar 24, 2023 at 1:34
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    @alphabet I think that's just more that it's not comparable. It sounds no worse to me than "very past" or "very identical."
    – A. R.
    Mar 24, 2023 at 18:09
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Is there a term that describes reducing a person's identity to certain characteristics, behaviours or traits that are not physical?

One easy answer would be reductionist (adjective). Dictionary.com defines it as:

2 simplistic to the point of minimizing, obscuring, or distorting a complex idea, issue, or condition:
Both stories describe the same reality, but your reductionist version fails to capture the full truth.

Your example would be:

The issue with all the previous thoughts is that they come from a self-centred, judgemental, reductionist attitude.

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    I think this is the best fit in the OP's sentence, being an adjective which describes a person doing the thing. Mar 23, 2023 at 16:01
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    "reductive" is also possible Mar 23, 2023 at 19:58
  • @chasly-supportsMonica Yeah, I thought about "reductionist", "reductionistic" and "reductive". But I think I'm more comfortable with the first one. That said, I'd like to know why and where the other two might be used instead.
    – JK2
    Mar 24, 2023 at 2:09
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You are probably looking for caricature:

a picture, description, etc., ludicrously exaggerating the peculiarities or defects of persons or things.

(Dictionary.com)

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The term pigeonhole fits what you are looking for. The Cambridge Dictionary has some definitions for this:

to have an often unfair idea of what type someone or something is

to put someone or something into a group or type, often unfairly

to form a fixed and often unfair idea of what someone or something is like

They also provide some examples:

He was pigeonholed early on in his career as a gospel singer.

We decided to drop the .com in our name because we didn't want to be pigeonholed as an internet company.

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"The issue with all the previous thoughts is that they come from a self-centred, judgemental, labelling attitude".


The Oxford English Dictionary indicates that one of the meanings of labelling covers this particular meaning.

  1. transitive. To apply a classifying word or phrase to (a person or thing); to categorize (a person or thing) using a particular word or phrase (sometimes with the implication that such categorization is inaccurate, simplistic, or restrictive). Chiefly with as or complement specifying the classifying word or phrase. Cf. label n.1 9.

One example given demonstrates the usage particularly well :

1881 M. Arnold Byron in Macmillan's Mag. Mar. 376/1 It would be most unjust to label Byron..as a rhetorician only

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Essentialism

Essentialist thinking says that 'if you are a member of this group, you have all the traits that I associate with that group'.

"The issue with all the previous thoughts is that they come from a self-centred, judgemental, and essentialist attitude".

Or, as Dr. Susan Gelmen says:

Essentialism is the view that certain categories (e.g., women, racial groups, dinosaurs, original Picasso artwork) have an underlying reality or true nature that one cannot observe directly. Furthermore, this underlying reality (or "essence") is thought to give objects their identity, and to be responsible for similarities that category members share.

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superficial (adj)

  • A twofer meaning not only shallow but also perceptually shallow.
  • A would-be casting agent if not for lack of character and depth perception.
  • By Power of Positivity:

When “sizing up” a superficial person, you won’t see much depth.

—"10 Signs You’re Dealing With A Superficial Person"

But who needs 10? It's a catch-22. It's like irony without the presents.

Superficial (2a of 2, M-W):

concerned only with the obvious or apparent : SHALLOW

A deep definition of shallow (3a of 4, M-W):

penetrating only the easily or quickly perceived
shallow generalizations

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