[ thuhg ]
See synonyms for: thugthugs on

  1. a violent, lawless, or vicious person, especially one who commits a crime such as assault, robbery, or murder: It wasn't uncommon for hired thugs to intimidate shop owners until they paid up.

  2. (sometimes initial capital letter) one of a former group of professional robbers and murderers in India who strangled their victims.

Origin of thug

First recorded in 1800–10; from Hindi, Marathi ṭhag “swindler, cheat, rogue,” perhaps from Sanskrit sthaga- “a cheat,” from sthagati “he conceals”

usage note For thug

The word thug has had racial and cultural overtones since its adoption into the English language. It entered English during the British colonial period to describe a particular gang of criminals in India, but from the beginning, the otherness of the Indian robbers was intrinsic to the narrative about British colonial victims.
In American English, the word is disproportionately applied to nonwhite perpetrators of violence or crime. White teens disturbing the peace at a party with loud music are more likely to be called troublemakers or hooligans. Their Black peers are more likely to be labeled thugs for the same offense. And following this common racialized usage, thug is used by some and interpreted by many as a code word for Black. In extreme cases, thug is chosen as a dog whistle to imply that Black people are generally prone to violence or criminality.
However, there is also a reclaimed sense of thug within the Black community, and particularly in the hip-hop community, one that acknowledges the violence implicit in the label while also celebrating toughness and street smarts.
Because thug has many implied connotations that may change depending on who is using the word and who is being described by it, it’s important to critically consider the context and tone around each particular instance of its use to truly understand what is being communicated.

Other words from thug

  • thug·ger·y [thuhg-uh-ree], /ˈθʌg ə ri/, noun
  • thug·gish, adjective Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2023

How to use thug in a sentence

British Dictionary definitions for thug


/ (θʌɡ) /

  1. a tough and violent man, esp a criminal

  2. (sometimes capital) (formerly) a member of an organization of robbers and assassins in India who typically strangled their victims

Origin of thug

C19: from Hindi thag thief, from Sanskrit sthaga scoundrel, from sthagati to conceal

Derived forms of thug

  • thuggery, noun
  • thuggish, adjective

Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 2012 Digital Edition © William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd. 1979, 1986 © HarperCollins Publishers 1998, 2000, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009, 2012