• thug •
thêg • Hear it!
Part of Speech: Noun
Meaning: 1. A violent, unfeeling gangster, a brutal hoodlum. 2. A member of the gangs of Indian robbers mentioned in today's Word History.
Notes: Since borrowed from Hindi, today's Good Word has procreated a rather large family. The actions of a thug are called thuggery, and collectively all thugs belong to a thugdom. Their behavior is thuggish, leaving room for a noun referring to a thug's defining characteristic, thuggishness.
In Play: The direct sense of today's word applies to cold-blooded criminals: "While I was at the convenience store, two thugs came in and stole all the money in the cash register and two packages of disposable diapers." Of course, the behavior is not limited to petty robbers: "Corporate executives who decimate their company's finances including employee retirement funds are just white-collar thugs using corporate power instead of fire power."
Word History: Today's Good Word is an adaptation of Hindi thag [têg] "a cheat, swindler" from Sanskrit sthagah "a cheat", the noun of the verb sthagati "he covers, conceals". Apparently, the meaning of Hindi thag derived from swindlers' inclination to conceal their felony. By the 19th century the Hindi word referred to highway robbers of northern India, perhaps more appropriately called phansigars "stranglers", since they were known to strangle their victims to death after robbing them. The original thugs were devotees of the goddess Kali, claiming that their victims were sacrifices to her. The Sanskrit verb is akin to English thatch, which still covers many English houses, and German Dach "roof". It is also a distant cousin of Latin toga, a type of body covering. (We cannot conceal our delight that Daniel Graney suggested today's word for inclusion in our series.)