In my reading lately I’ve found that the concept of “victim” has crossed my path fairly regularly. I did a previous ngram that touched on the subject, but I found some interesting trends as I dug a little deeper. At the previous article I demonstrated that we are more likely to talk about victims, but I found evidence that we are also more likely to give them special honour.
As always, if you are unfamiliar with ngrams, check out the very first article in this series for a brief introduction.
As I showed in the previous ngram article that touched on victims, here are the ngrams for “victim” and “victims.”
In both the singular and the plural form they see steady usage with a noticable rise after that magical decade called the 1960s. The time when everything in the English speaking world seemed to change.
But it gets even more interesting when we look at the capitalized versions of both of those words.
As this chart shows, the words were rarely capitalized before the 1960s, after which capitalized use of the words very steadily increased for some time.
Why capitalized? Capitalization (excluding at the beginning of a sentence) is used to signify a proper noun or a proper name. I had to look this up, so I’ll just let Wikipedia explain:
A proper noun is a noun that in its primary application refers to a unique entity, such as London, Jupiter, Sarah, or Microsoft, as distinguished from a common noun, which usually refers to a class of entities (city, planet, person, corporation), or non-unique instances of a specific class (a city, another planet, these persons, our corporation)
By capitalizing the word, English speakers have conferred some kind of uniqueness, of special status, on the class of “victims.” Whereas before, “victims” were just one type of people, now “Victims” are a unique type of people.
What else is interesting is how they both start their climb at the same time, and they climb at the same rate for a while, but around 1980 the plural, “Victims” continues to rise at roughly the same rate, while the singular, “Victim” sees a slowing of its rise. In fact, it levels off for about a decade.
So there would seem to be something about Victims that deserves a special title, and something about them as a group that gets more attention than individuals. This trend seems to be well confirmed by this sociological paper that describes “A Culture of Victimhood,” especially as it exists on university campuses, and particularly as a result of the rise of social media. In particular, the culture of victimhood necessitates large groups in order to carry the weight that culture requires these days. That might help explain why the plural form of the word outgrew the singular!
It’s a fascinating paper, describing a fascinating trend. And it helps explain why some people seem to have such a difficult time getting along with others.