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I’ve always been vaguely aware of raper as an alternative to rapist, as a vaguely wrong sounding, possibly archaic formulation.

Nowadays, it’s most often heard from speakers of English as a second language, for whom the construction is slightly irregular compared to other similar verbs. But I’m also aware that I've seen the -er version of the word in older texts.

Well, today I happened to be curious while sitting at a computer and fed it into an ngram, and...

Raper V. Rapist ngram

That is not the sort of graph I expected to see; the use of -ist appears seemingly out of nowhere after over a century of dormancy in the mid 20th century, and by the mid 1960s has skyrocketed in usage. Now I would expect an increase in general at this time due to the rise of feminism and increased attention to sexual violence, but I'm curious as to the specific choice of the -ist form over the -er variant; particularly in light of the sharp increase in the latters usage during World War II in 1940, presumably connected to growing reports in the west of the Japanese atrocities at Nanking.

Is there any documentation or research explaining how the -ist formulation came to be dominant in current usage? What could be the reason for that sudden shift?

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Feel free to commission a study to determine the answer, if it is determinable. There are a lot of variables that need to be addressed. –  John Lawler May 6 at 2:12
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(One notable caveat w/r/t the ngram; 'Raper' is also an uncommon, though not unheard of surname, held by a few individuals of historic note. I'd expect the spike in the early 19th century, for example, to be related to the work and research of Henry Raper. Still, the synchronicity of the pattern with periods of conflict indicates that the usage is mostly in line with the contemporary.) –  LessPop_MoreFizz May 6 at 2:12
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It is possible the term change is reflected/discussed in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) manuals published in 1952 (DSM-I)and 1968 (DSM-II). If so, the American Psychiatric Association classification would explain the term change in medical, and legal use. –  Third News May 6 at 3:00
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I clicked on the first page of "raper", 1986-2008, and found this google.com/… Every single Raper, is a surname, note the capital letter. The first page, 1955-1985 yielded again Raper google.com/…. –  Mari-Lou A May 6 at 6:03
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1747-1943 the first page is again Raper with the capital letter: google.com/… –  Mari-Lou A May 6 at 6:05

3 Answers 3

Technically, one who forces another to have sexual intercourse (with reference to a specific occasion or incident) should be raper, not rapist. Many dictionaries agree on this usage.

On the other hand, rapist would be a habitual offender, again, technically.

However, Raper is an honorable surname.

Raper is an Ango-Saxon name. The name was originally given to a rope-maker.

The spelling variations under which the name Raper has appeared include Raper, Wraper, Rapper, Rapier and others. First found in Sussex.
(c) Swyrich Corp.

Naturally, it is to be avoided in a negative connotation.

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@Mari-LouA Again, it's not, mostly. It better not be. –  Kris May 6 at 7:38
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I have the same view as this answer, drawn from the usual difference between the suffixes -er and -ist: while both can refer to someone who does something repeatedly, -ist has a stronger connotation of doing it habitually. –  Brilliand May 6 at 16:52

I am going to take a logical stab at this.

You have raper and rapist and then rapper and rapping.

In the mid 70s to early 80s the beginning of the word rapper started being used. Grandmaster Flash started getting big in the mid 70s. His sampling style was known simply as rapping.

enter image description here

Knowing the media world, they shy away from using wording that correlates closely with common slang (I am assuming rapper was considered slang then). Since I have never heard of a rapper go by rappist this makes a lot of sense for the word change during that time period.

The charting of the word rapper, rap, and rapping lags a little bit behind but you have to factor in that it wasn't a huge thing right away and it is certainly not a genre that has a lot of mention in books comparatively.

enter image description here

Now however therapists everywhere have been vehemently opposed to the word rapist and would like to go back to using raper.

enter image description here

Sean Connery has taken this conversation to a new level.

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"therapists everywhere have been vehemently opposed to the word rapist" -- hmm, could that have anything to do with poor quality word processors hyphenating "therapist" as "the- rapist"? As well as people mispronouncing it as "the rapist"? –  Phil Perry May 7 at 13:22
    
Do you have any idea why our comments have been deleted? According to SE standards, comments should be flagged if 1) rude or offensive 2) not constructive 3) obsolete 4) too chatty 5) other… I did ask a mod but got no reply. –  Mari-Lou A May 7 at 23:04
    
Imho, this makes perfect sense. –  Grantwalzer Aug 17 at 17:26

Looking at the etymology, it confirms the shift around the 70's because of the Latin-American movements.

ist word-forming element meaning "one who does or makes," also used to indicate adherence to a certain doctrine or custom, from French -iste and directly from Latin -ista, from Greek -istes, from -is-, ending of the stem of verbs in -izein, + agential suffix -tes. Variant -ister (as in chorister, barister) is from Old French -istre, on false analogy of ministre. Variant -ista is from Spanish, popularized in American English 1970s by names of Latin-American revolutionary movements.

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I think you're parsing that sentence wrong, and thus, your bolded excerpt doesn't apply or make a whole lot of sense here. The suffix popularized by Latin American revolutionaries was '-ista' as in 'Sandanista', or, more playfully, 'Fashionista'. Other uses of '-ist' generally are the result of a root word derived from a Romantic, rather than Germanic language. In that respect, 'Rape' is an outlier, which is why I'm curious. –  LessPop_MoreFizz May 6 at 2:21
    
I see you point, more research needs to be done on it. –  Josh61 May 6 at 2:40
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Maybe I wasn't sufficiently clear; this doesn't answer my question. At best, it's a helpful reference on the suffix in general. At worst, given your first sentence, and misplaced emphasis, it is completely misleading and almost certainly wrong, as it is based on a clear misreading of the dictionary entry in question. –  LessPop_MoreFizz May 6 at 2:43
    
I may have misunderstood, you may have been not clear enough! –  Josh61 May 6 at 3:01
    
I don't see any consistency in English as to when -er is used and when -ist is used. For example, one who rides a (motor|bi)cycle is a cyclist, while one who separates their trash for resource recovery is a recycler, not a recyclist. If someone can't come up with a general rule, I'd say it's just "one of those quirks" of English that make it both charming and infuriating. –  Phil Perry May 7 at 13:16

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