gang·​ster ˈgaŋ-stər How to pronounce gangster (audio)
: a member of a gang of criminals : racketeer
gangsterdom noun
gangsterish adjective
gangsterism noun

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What is the history of the word gangster?

Gangster came into the English language at the latter portion of the 19th century, as one of what is now a large parcel of words which have been formed by adding the noun combining form –ster to an existing word. The ending -ster has a number of possible meanings (“one that does, handles, or operates,” “one that makes or uses,” “one that is associated with or participates in,” “one that is”), and one of its interesting elements is that it has, in many cases, shifted its gender. This second portion of gangster comes from the Old English -estre, meaning “female agent.” The word tapster ("a bartender"), for instance, was tæppestre in Old English, and designated a barmaid, or female tapster. In modern use the addition of -ster may often be found in a gender-neutral sense, as with hipster, or with implications of masculinity, as with gangster and mobster, through prevalence of usage.

Example Sentences

Al Capone remains one of the most notorious gangsters in American history.
Recent Examples on the Web Her book reveals that the gangster died in a shootout in Barrington. Myrna Petlicki, Chicago Tribune, 17 Nov. 2022 Bullitt starred McQueen as a San Francisco police lieutenant tasked with protecting a Chicago gangster scheduled to testify against the mob. Etan Vlessing, The Hollywood Reporter, 17 Nov. 2022 Instead of coming home to open arms and a reward for his loyalty, he's shunted off by his employer's big-shot son to Tulsa, seemingly picked at random as a place in the middle of nowhere to stick an old gangster. Kelly Lawler, USA TODAY, 12 Nov. 2022 The last man standing — the last OG (original gangster) rock 'n' roller. Philip Martin, Arkansas Online, 6 Nov. 2022 Nevertheless, the Venezuelan gangster flitted around COP27 with an air of legitimacy. Mary Anastasia O’grady, WSJ, 13 Nov. 2022 The Irish gangster seems to be an invention of the writers. Josh St. Clair, Men's Health, 11 June 2022 American gangster John Dillinger was born in Indianapolis in June 1903. John Tufts, The Indianapolis Star, 30 Oct. 2022 The home was charming, if architecturally wonky, and—in addition to a resident mouse or two—boasted a colorful history that included (as local lore held) stints as a 19th-century hunting shack, gangster bolt-hole, and hippie artists’ colony. Anna Fixsen, ELLE Decor, 25 Oct. 2022 See More

These example sentences are selected automatically from various online news sources to reflect current usage of the word 'gangster.' Views expressed in the examples do not represent the opinion of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback.

Word History


gang entry 1 + -ster

First Known Use

1884, in the meaning defined above

Time Traveler
The first known use of gangster was in 1884

Dictionary Entries Near gangster

Cite this Entry

“Gangster.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 9 Dec. 2022.

Kids Definition


gang·​ster ˈgaŋ-stər How to pronounce gangster (audio)
: a member of a gang of criminals : racketeer
gangsterism noun

Legal Definition


: a member of a gang of criminals

More from Merriam-Webster on gangster

Last Updated: - Updated example sentences
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