gang·​ster | \ ˈgaŋ-stər How to pronounce gangster (audio) \

Definition of gangster

: a member of a gang of criminals : racketeer

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Other Words from gangster

gangsterdom \ ˈgaŋ-​stər-​dəm How to pronounce gangsterdom (audio) \ noun
gangsterish \ ˈgaŋ-​stə-​rish How to pronounce gangsterish (audio) \ adjective
gangsterism \ ˈgaŋ-​stə-​ˌri-​zəm How to pronounce gangsterism (audio) \ noun

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.

Examples of gangster in a Sentence

Al Capone remains one of the most notorious gangsters in American history.

Recent Examples on the Web

As recently as November, a judge dismissed a juror for misconduct in a case of two gang members accused of killing a Vallejo woman on Highway 4 who was in a car with a rival gangster. Angela Ruggiero, The Mercury News, "Ghost Ship trial: How often are trials upended by juror misconduct?," 20 Aug. 2019 The glamor of the gangster film is as old as Hollywood itself. David Sims, The Atlantic, "The Kitchen Can’t Figure Out What Kind of Gangster Film It Is," 9 Aug. 2019 While numerous organizations opposed American Nazis, one group took the fight further than the rest — Jewish gangsters. Eric Ginsburg, Teen Vogue, "American Nazis and Nazi Sympathizers Have Been Around Since the 1930’s," 26 Nov. 2018 Scarface’ When: April 19 Brian De Palma’s update of the 1932 gangster film still has a visceral resonance, thanks in part to a towering performance by Al Pacino. Mekado Murphy, New York Times, "Robert De Niro’s Top Picks for the Tribeca Film Festival," 17 Apr. 2018 The film won’t flop due to the acting, which is led by the excellent Bryan Cranston, best known as a craggy-faced chemistry teacher turned meth gangster. Nina Burleigh, Newsweek, "'Trumbo' Terrific but Fated to Flop," 7 Nov. 2015 Demonstrators also detained and tied a Chinese national to a luggage cart after accusing him of being a gangster. Joshua Berlinger, CNN, "Order returns to Hong Kong airport, but tensions linger," 14 Aug. 2019 In retaliation, gangsters sprayed a nearby house with bullets, injuring a man and his 18-year-old niece. Kimon De Greef,, "As gang murders surge, South Africa sends army to Cape Town, and the city cheers," 13 Aug. 2019 Beijing has also ramped up its propaganda machine, portraying the demonstrators as violent gangsters whose activities are starting to look like terrorism. Ezra Cheung, New York Times, "Chaos Grips Hong Kong’s Airport as Police Clash With Protesters," 12 Aug. 2019

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.

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First Known Use of gangster

1884, in the meaning defined above

History and Etymology for gangster

gang entry 1 + -ster

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Statistics for gangster

Last Updated

31 Aug 2019

Look-up Popularity

Time Traveler for gangster

The first known use of gangster was in 1884

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More Definitions for gangster



English Language Learners Definition of gangster

: a member of a group of violent criminals


gang·​ster | \ ˈgaŋ-stər How to pronounce gangster (audio) \

Kids Definition of gangster

: a member of a gang of criminals



Legal Definition of gangster

: a member of a gang of criminals

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More from Merriam-Webster on gangster

Thesaurus: All synonyms and antonyms for gangster

Spanish Central: Translation of gangster

Nglish: Translation of gangster for Spanish Speakers

Britannica English: Translation of gangster for Arabic Speakers

Comments on gangster

What made you want to look up gangster? Please tell us where you read or heard it (including the quote, if possible).


formidable, illustrious, or eminent

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