Villainize Or Vilify? When Should We Use These And How?

It’s safe to say we are all familiar with heroes and villains; however, do you know the proper usage of ‘villainize” and “vilify”? don’t worry, you’ve got questions. And we’ve got answers.

The distinction between “vilifying” and “villainizing” as verbs is that “vilify” means to say anything libelous about someone or something, but “villainize” means to act as a villain. Meaning, vilify is used when trying to put something down, while villainize is referring to the actual villain.

To fully grasp the meaning and difference between these two words, we must understand the importance of each word individually.

Villainize

To be viewed in a weak or unfavorable light (by others).

Ex: I’m a good guy, but I’ve been villainized based on little or no evidence that I’m a robber and a liar.

Use In A Sentence

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For better understanding, here’s a couple of examples in which “Villainized” could be used in a sentence:

  • ICE Patrol rips newspaper over skewed facts, attempt to ‘Villainize‘ agents
  • Although our biggest competitor, regardless of how many evil acts they’ve made, we won’t villainize the opposite party because it will be a more extensive reflection on us than on them.
  • I only villainize those who have shown to me that they are actually evil.
  • During the 1995 OJ Simpson Trial, the defendant’s lawyer team made possible attempts to villainize OJ in hopes of having the verdict go their way.
  • We can identify that more than one colonizer tended to villainize the originators from the land throughout history.

One can identify by reading these sentences that the “villainize” is used to refer to the villain presented.

Synonyms

Here’s a couple of words/sayings that have the same connotation as “Villainize”:

  • Malign
  • Slander
  • Defame
  • Drag through the mud
  • Spread tales about
  • Tarnish someone’s name

Origin Of The Word “Villainize”?

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Around the 1620s, the word “villainize” was first recorded. The villain is a considerably older word from the Late Latin term villānus, which means “farm servant.” It was first mentioned in the early 1300s.

Initially, a villain was a guy with a social rank much below that of nobility. To villainize someone means to portray them as the evil guy. This implies that things aren’t always as horrible as they’re made out to be.

How And When To Use This Term?

The word villainize suggests that someone exaggerates someone’s behavior or remarks by making them appear worse than they are.

The most relatable way in which we can put this term to use comes with day-to-day life. Human beings often fall into villainizing something or someone because it goes against what they believe is correct or accurate.

EX: We can find the action of villainizing between millennials (in addition to all generations before them) and GEN-Z when discussing gender. Since the knowledge cascaded about gender expression has changed a lot from back then to now—leaving space for Millennials to villainize GEN-Z for having a broader spectrum for gender expression.

Vilify

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Vilify is equivalent to the distribution of a false statement that, depending on the country’s law, hurts the reputation of an individual, business, product, group, government, religion, or nation. Thus, it is known as defamation, calumny, vilification, or traducement. To be considered defamation under common law, a claim must be untrue and made to someone other than the person who has been defamed.

Use In A Sentence

For better understanding, here’s a couple of examples in which “vilify” could be used in a sentence:

  • They were vilified in the media outlets for their comments.
  • Rather than vilify his opponents, Biden chose to better understand their positions by practicing empathy.
  • During the game, a fan was the person the stadium decided to vilify because of their disrespectful remarks.
  • Because slave morality is a reaction to oppression, it vilifies its oppressors.
  • Can you embrace the soldier that just arrived home and yet vilify the cause that leads to him fighting?

One can identify by reading these sentences that the “Vilify” is used to talk down upon something or someone.

Synonyms

Here’s a couple of words/sayings that have the same connotation as “Vilify”:

  • Insult
  • Calumniate
  • Condemn
  • Discredit
  • Stigmatize
  • Badmouth
  • Plot against

Origin Of The Word “Vilify”?

Vilify is derived from the Middle English vilifien and the Late Latin vilificare, derived from the Latin adjective vilis, which means “cheap” or “vile.”

It was written in English for the first time in the 15th century. During that time, another verb, vilipend, derived from vilis and has a similar meaning, made its debut.

Vilify means publicly declaring such a viewpoint in a way that the intention is to disgrace or harm a person’s reputation.

How And When To Use This Term?

This term alludes to making defamatory and harsh accusations against someone.

A scenario in which it is easy to register the act of vilifying would be in court. Whatever the case, as long as there is an accuser and a defendant, the parties will aim to vilify each other to prove their innocence to a judge or jury by exaggerating any possible fault one may have against the other.

Villainize Or Vilify?

The use of these two similar words will come down to the context given. Meaning; Villainize is the best-used verb to represent a villain, while Vilify is speaking ill of something or someone to say slanderous things.

Therefore, if we want to degrade, disgrace, or make something or someone vile, we will use Vilify, and when referring to the villain in question, we will use Villainize.

To better lay out the differences, here’s a set of scenarios in which we could easily differentiate the two:

  1. In the following video: Video Footage of Fan Throwing Popcorn on Russell Westbrook, We can identify and use vilify and villainize. For example, we can see how the public could villainize basketball player Russell Westbrook based on his reaction to having an unexpected object thrown his way. However, the case of vilifying is also open since the fans could claim that what was thrown was made as a reaction to what they can call a sore loser.

Do you see the difference? We are referring to the person in question, in this case being Russell Westbrook, as villainized. Yet, we can also see how the term Vilify applies to this scenario since an exaggeration was made to justify the action. 

Recapping, villainize; referring to a person/something. – vilify: exaggerate/ alter the facts to make it seem worse than it is.

  1. In the next video: KXLY Exclusive: Rachel Dolezal responds to race allegations

We can also make reference to the two terms. Although Rachel Dolezal is a controversial/problematic topic, to begin with, it serves as the perfect vessel for laying down the difference between vilifying and villainizing.

Meaning, we can see how the general public is quick to vilify Ms. Dolezal for her alteration of facts when it comes to her race. Yet, it could also be taken from a villainizing perspective since we are addressing her as the villain.

Again, not beating on a dead horse, but the difference between the two I think you can determine now.

Conclusion

Now you’re ready to distinguish between vilifying and villainize!

Although these two terms are frequently used interchangeably as synonyms, it’s important to note that villainizing refers to representing the villain when they’re employed as verbs. In contrast, vilify refers to saying defamatory things about someone or something.

By Shawn Manaher

Shawn Manaher is the founder and CEO of The Content Authority. He's one part content manager, one part writing ninja organizer, and two parts leader of top content creators. You don't even want to know what he calls pancakes.