\ ˈthəg How to pronounce thug (audio) \
plural thugs

Definition of thug

1 see usage paragraph below : a violent or brutish criminal or bully a brutal thug a gang of thugs … in American History X, Norton … plays a vicious young Venice Beach thug, a racist skinhead with … a thick black swastika tattooed over one bulging pec, and a gleam of murder in his eye.— Owen Gleiberman An authoritarian government willing to use the most brutal means to hold on to power; a dictator whose thugs have murdered, tortured, imprisoned or intimidated tens of thousands of civilians …— Michiko Kakutani
2 : a member of a group of murderous robbers in India's past whose activities were suppressed in the early nineteenth century

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Other Words from thug

thuggery \ ˈthə-​g(ə-​)rē How to pronounce thug (audio) \ noun
thuggish \ ˈthə-​gish How to pronounce thug (audio) \ adjective

Usage of Thug

Although thug was originally (and often still is) a term with strong negative connotations, since at least the early 1990s it has been embraced and reconceived by rap artists. [Tupac Shakur's] vision redefined the word "thug" into a man who triumphs over systemic and societal obstacles. — Mosi Reeves It now functions in African-American English with far more nuance than those unfamiliar with that reconception will recognize. "A thug in black people's speech is somebody who is a ruffian but in being a ruffian is displaying a healthy sort of countercultural initiative, displaying a kind of resilience in the face of racism etc. Of course nobody puts it that way, but that's the feeling. And so when black people say it, they don't mean what white people mean …" — John McWhorter The word's original and ongoing use to refer to criminals is still very much present in the culture at large, however, and use of thug by a white person to refer to a Black person is generally understood to lack the nuance the word carries when used by a Black person, and to instead be an offensive insinuation that a Black person can be assumed to be engaged in criminal behavior.

Examples of thug in a Sentence

He was beaten and robbed by street thugs. the Mob boss regularly sent his thugs after people who were slow to pay their debts
Recent Examples on the Web Somebody at the Mobile Sheriffs Department posted a bad idea on the Team Sheriff Facebook page: The ‘thug’ Christmas tree. J.d. Crowe |, al, "Mobile sheriff models ‘thug’ ugly Christmas sweater of shame," 8 Dec. 2020 The sybaritic Bond was an ace with women, a master of intricate weaponry and the double entendre, a cultured vinophile (who preferred martinis — shaken, not stirred) and a violent thug who wore bespoke tuxedos. Washington Post, "Sean Connery, first James Bond of film, dies at 90," 31 Oct. 2020 According to that film's Facebook page, Morais played a Russian thug in The Equalizer in his first role. Katherine J Igoe, Marie Claire, "Who Is 'The Bachelorette's Brendan Morais, the Actor-Model Frontrunner?," 13 Oct. 2020 Amazon was long considered a thug to competitors and a slavedriver to employees, hourly and salaried alike. Aaron Pressman, Fortune, "Amazon the innovator or Amazon the violator?," 13 Oct. 2020 The use of the word thug is a part of that history and continuum. Safia Samee Ali, NBC News, "'Not by accident': False 'thug' narratives have long been used to discredit civil rights movements," 27 Sep. 2020 He could have been attacked by the same thugs who robbed and roughed up the man in the road. Vincent Kituku, idahostatesman, "Be attuned to the needs of others | Idaho Statesman," 23 Mar. 2018 Cabral was nominated for the first season of the anthology series for his portrayal of Hector Tontz, a young thug suspected of being involved in a murder. Greg Braxton,, "For Richard Cabral, 'American Crime' is simultaneously rewarding and heartbreaking," 25 May 2017

These example sentences are selected automatically from various online news sources to reflect current usage of the word 'thug.' 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 thug

1839, in the meaning defined at sense 1

History and Etymology for thug

Hindi & Urdu ṭhag, literally, thief

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Statistics for thug

Last Updated

20 Jan 2021

Cite this Entry

“Thug.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 3 Mar. 2021.

Style: MLA
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More Definitions for thug



English Language Learners Definition of thug

: a violent criminal


\ ˈthəg How to pronounce thug (audio) \

Kids Definition of thug

: a violent person or criminal

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