November 07, 2011
- villain (noun)
- What does it mean?
- 1 : a free peasant2 : an evil person : scoundrel
- How do you use it?
- When he took a closer look at the history of the Old West, Bruce discovered that one person's villain could be another person's hero.
- Are you a word wiz?
Nowadays, we usually think of a "villain" as the "bad guy" in a story or play, and sometimes in real life. But the word had quite a journey before it ended up with this meaning. What do you think is the origin of "villain"?"Villain" started out as a product of the Latin word "villa," which first described a large country dwelling, and later meant "village." A "villanus," a peasant who lived in a village, became known as a "villain" or "vilein" in medieval France and England. Sometimes he was free, sometimes tied to property on which he worked that was owned by a lord. Because of the influence of the medieval aristocracy on language, "villain" and "vilein" took on the meaning of a rough person with poor manners. This unflattering image was carried over to the modern English "villain," finally developing into the scoundrel or criminal figure that comes to mind today.