\ 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 And sanctions alone are unlikely to get the ruthless thug in Moscow to stop. Robin Wright, The New Yorker, 7 Mar. 2022 Any producer or distributor not playing ball could expect a visit from a federal marshal or a thug with Mob connections. Nat Segnit, Harper’s Magazine , 16 Mar. 2022 But he was supposed to look like a big thug, like muscle for the mob. Andy Greene, Rolling Stone, 7 Mar. 2022 The sin-signifying rain of Seven drenches Gotham City, which is also plagued by murderous ciphers that recall Zodiac and Fight Club–style thug armies of disaffected youths aching to be activated in a program of terror. Kyle Smith, National Review, 28 Feb. 2022 Russia’s invasion of Ukraine should be a wake-up call, a reminder that there are dire consequences to welcoming any two-bit thug with a wallet overflowing with cash to purchase legitimacy. Alex Shephard, The New Republic, 25 Feb. 2022 Freedom-loving people everywhere have long known Vladimir Putin to be an authoritarian thug. Iris Samuels, Anchorage Daily News, 24 Feb. 2022 For the Italian girls, the invisible power was political violence: Lila and Lenu interpret Don Achille, the neighborhood’s fascist thug, as an ogre who eats children. Katy Waldman, The New Yorker, 8 Feb. 2022 This haunting film was also his first collaboration with Hellboy’s Ron Perlman, who plays a thug out to get the beetle for his rich uncle. Tim Grierson, Vulture, 23 Dec. 2021 See More

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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Last Updated

14 Apr 2022

Cite this Entry

“Thug.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 19 May. 2022.

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More Definitions for thug


\ ˈthəg How to pronounce thug (audio) \

Kids Definition of thug

: a violent criminal

More from Merriam-Webster on thug

Nglish: Translation of thug for Spanish Speakers

Britannica English: Translation of thug for Arabic Speakers Encyclopedia article about thug


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