Class divisions are always the cause of some enemity and spite, but the source of villain is almost beyond imagination. Stemming from Latin and the word villanus, this term for "one who is evil" originally meant "farmhand", or quite literally "one from a village". Once Latin died out and all that political disruption abated a tad, the French went along and blatantly plagiarized the word (those darn villains!) to create villein, or "peasant," not much of a difference from before. This, as a lot of French words did, crossed the Channel to England and became villain, which still meant "peasant" in Middle English. Then the nasty switch occurred. The English aristocracy was characteristically snobby and looked down at all lower classes with disdain. The villains, specifically, being echelons below knights, were supposed to have much less honor than knights. These honor-less villians then supposedly went around robbing, raping, and pillaging (some of which was true, but the branding is still unfair). Thus a word for "peasant" began to mean "criminal" and, as the term consolidated, it began referring mostly to "evil masterminds". How villainous a transition!
Hello! I'm Adam Aleksic, a rising junior studying government and linguistics at Harvard University, where I co-founded the Harvard Undergraduate Linguistics Society. In addition to etymology, I also really enjoy trivia, politics, vexillology, geography, board games, conlanging, and law.