Villain. It is a word which has come to mean a cruelly malicious person who is involved in or devoted to wickedness or crime; a scoundrel. But that was not the original meaning of the word. In the Middle Ages, people who lived in cities were known as "citizens" (a denizen of the city), whereas a person who lived outside of the cities in a village or "ville" was known as a"villian".. the spelling only later changed reversing the i and the a to make villain.
So, how did this innocuous label which meant merely meant someone who lived in a small town or village come to mean what the word villain now means?
In the middle ages it was a dangerous thing to travel between cities, where most people lived. Often the only law existed within cities, and travelers took their lives into their own hands when they left a city gates. Those who lived outside of the cities often supplemented their income by preying upon travelers. They might be hiwaymen, or they might even simply be an innkeeper who provided sleeping quarters and a meal for travelers. Even sleeping in an inn was no guarantee of safety, as many travelers would never wake up, their throats having been slit by the innkeeper while they slept and their goods stolen. The preying upon travelers by villagers was so common, and their reputation so renowned for this, that the very name villain became an epithet... a dirty name.
Attempts have been made several times by people who sought to change what others thought of certain groups of people by controlling what labels were applied to those people. "Gay" is one example. In order to make homosexuality seem more benign such words as faggot or queer was designated as a derogatory term, and the label "gay" was applied in an attempt to make a positive sounding word, which means merely happy, confer that same positive view to the homosexuals. It did not work. It was not the label which determined how people feel about homosexuals, it is what they do that determines that. And since their actions are such that most people find repulsive, the word "gay" has changed in meaning as well and has now become a derogatory term used to label anything unpleasant or disliked.
Black Americans have attempted the same thing numerous times. Not liking the name "******", (look, it cannot even be mentioned in clinical terms) they then wished to be called "negro", which merely means "black" in spanish. Over time, the word "negro" came to be viewed in a negative light, and they then wanted to be called "colored". Eventually that became a label they did not want to be called, and it turned to "Afro-american". THAT term went out pretty fast as it became associated with the fad hairstyle, the afro, and that name fell into disfavor when the hairstyle did.. so it evolved to African-American. So why does whatever label they choose for themselves end up becoming a derogatory name that they did not like being called? Who is responsible for that change?
Finally, I would like to point out that there is another group whose name has become an epithet, and who are therefore trying to change people's attitudes about them by changing the label they call themselves. Liberals... who now wish to be called "Progressives".
The reality is that if you had a group of people who were labelled "scumbags", and those people were hard-working, honest, peaceful, generous people... soon everyone would want to be called a scumbag, as scumbag would become synonymous with that sort of person. Meanwhile you can have a group labeled as "saints", and if they are criminals, hateful, lazy, or otherwise worthless human-beings... soon calling someone a saint would be an insult.
Our labels do not define us. We, thru our actions, define our labels.