honor, dignity, victim – ngrams

There is a disturbing trend emerging at post-secondary institutions. Jonothan Haidt at Heterodox Academy speaks of the “culture of victimhood” at this blog article. He then references a paper by two other sociologists on the matter, and begins by clarifying that the concepts of honour and dignity have been in decline while victimhood has been on the rise.

What do the ngrams say?

First things first, if you aren’t familiar with Google’s ngram viewer and its value in observing the trends in human thought, read this article – the first I wrote in this series.

In this study I will use another of the ngram tools, the ability to add (or subtract, but I don’t use that this time) various ngrams. The article describes how “honor” and “dignity” have given way to “victimhood.” As an experiment, I combine the total use of the words “honor” and “dignity” and compare that to the use of the word “victim.”

Some quick notes:

  • The word “honor” has undergone a shift in spelling over the years from “honour.” We are more likely to drop the “u” these days. I combined the total use of both spellings.
  • I included both “victim” and “victims” to consider all uses of the word.

Without further ado…


Consistent with what the article describes, the concepts of “honor” and “dignity” have, in fact, taken a very serious hit. A couple of centuries ago we were roughly 5X more likely to talk about those than we are today.

While the concept of “victim” hasn’t seen the same kind of skyrocketing increase as other words I’ve looked at recently, clearly there has been an increase in the use of that word in both singular and plural form. Most significantly, though, use of that word (singular and plural) surpasses use of the other two words combined (with multiple spellings). That is surprising, and consistent with what the article says.

We truly are more likely to see the world through the lens of the victim than we are to walk about “honour” and “dignity.” If you want a really interesting insight, check out the ngram for “victimhood.” I leave that to your investigation.

Interestingly, that increase in use of the word “victim” started in the 1960s. Consistent with what I have previously shown, something about that decade (and spilling into the 1970s) fundamentally shifted how we think, and talk, about ourselves and life in general. Since the 1960s we have processed the world very differently though, clearly, the roots of that transformation extend much further into the past.