Why I Hate Ripperology

Let me honest here, I abhor the titles “Ripperology” and “Ripperologist” – although I enjoy the company of and greatly admire individual “ripperologists.”


Quite simply because they are non-terms, invented by people who study – or studied – the subject of the Whitechapel murders and wanted to make their studies sound grand and important.


It reminds me of the old Maureen Lipman BT adverts where her grandson, Anthony, tells her that he failed all his exams except for pottery and sociology – “an ology,” her character, Beattie (get it?), responds, “he gets an ology and he says he’s failed. You get an ology, you’re a scientist.”

If you haven’t seen the advert, or you don’t remember it, here is a nostalgic blast from the past.


The advert was mocking the pretentious aspirations of the education system in the 1980s, and the fact that so many subjects had “ology” tacked on to them in order to make them sound impressive and important.

In fact, in the majority of cases it meant absolutely nothing.

It was around this time that the terms “ripperologist” and “ripperology”  began to creep into the lexicon of true crime studies – having been coined, I believe, by the late Colin Wilson (1931 – 2013) –  as those who studied the Jack the Ripper atrocities saw an opportunity to legitimise their interest.

Nowadays, the publishing world, the internet, even Facebook are filled with “Ripperologists”, who have found themselves trapped in a sort of existential world of self-proclaimed expertise or specialism.

“My name’s Richard, and I’m a Ripperologist”, you can imagine yourself spouting, as your fellow self ordained Ripper buffs nod in recognition and respond with, “hi Richard.”


But “ripperolgy” per se simply doesn’t exist.

In fact, that well known expert on what does and doesn’t exist as a word or a subject – my spell check – is, as I type this, underlining it in red – although I will conceded that it recognises ripperologist, but not ripperologists, plural, go figure that one out!

And, let’s expand on this. We don’t talk about someone who studies Charles Dickens as a “Dickensologist”, or someone who studies Shakespeare as a “Shakespeareologist.”

So why do we have this need to have to attempt to legitimise the study of the Jack the Ripper crimes with a term that is, in fact, as fictional as the name from which it is derived?


I would suggest that the use of the term  actually reinforces a stereotype of those who study the case that has crept in in recent years as lone keyboard warriors trading insults from their mother’s cellar or basement.

And yet – and I can speak from a great deal of experience having, over the years, met some wonderful and very social Whitechapel murders historians – the majority of those who study the case are anything but keyboard warriors.

They are friendly, caring people and are pleasant to hold conversations with.

Yes, there are a few fanatics in the field who are probably hammering the keyboard in their mother’s basement, as they call anyone who doesn’t agree with their particular suspect all the names under the sun – but they are, very much a minority.


Ripperologist and Ripperology are so 1980s. What’s wrong with being an historian, true crime historian, crime historian or social historian?

I must confess that I wince when anyone introduces me as a “Ripperologist”, as I absolutely despise the term, and think that it cheapens serious study.

Am I the only one who feels like that?

Come on over to the Facebook Page and let me know if you agree or disagree with my detestation of “Ripperology.”

But please be nice!