Definition of thug in US English:



  • 1A violent person, especially a criminal.

    • ‘There is no reason why a thug should be immune from the ordinary criminal law.’
    • ‘Drastic measures need to be taken such as dusk to dawn curfews on thugs and yobs roaming our neighbourhood.’
    • ‘The peaceful majority should never again have to suffer at the hands of mindless thugs.’
    • ‘He is stereotyping young people today who wear hoods and caps as yobs and thugs.’
    • ‘One of his ancestors suppressed a riot by laying low a man called Murphy, a thug at the head of a mob who was wielding a wire whip.’
    • ‘A public meeting is to be held to discuss the rising tide of violence involving young thugs in west York.’
    • ‘Take a leap of faith that even though he looks like a thug, he is not necessarily a thug.’
    • ‘Alcohol wrecks lives and families and too often transforms people into violent thugs.’
    • ‘Three schoolboys on a day out at Salford Quays were stabbed by a gang of thugs near the Lowry arts centre.’
    • ‘I am sick of the mindless thugs who think they have a right to disrupt other people's lives.’
    • ‘A frail widow was brutally robbed of her life savings in her own home by a violent thug who left her with a broken arm and leg.’
    • ‘Spend some more on getting rid of the gangs of young thugs that roam around on our buses and trains.’
    • ‘He said tougher standards were needed to crack down on thugs and drunken yobs.’
    • ‘Hooligans behave like thugs smashing up anyone and everything in their paths.’
    • ‘Another such family has quit York altogether before suffering violence at the hands of the thugs.’
    • ‘Police have formed a hospital force in the war on thieves and thugs who target staff and patients.’
    • ‘The thugs raided the village and began firing their guns to terrorise the farmers.’
    • ‘A footballer today told how he was beaten up by a gang of thugs who left him unable to play for his team.’
    • ‘It seemed like the entire black elite of America was there and also a large number of underworld thugs.’
    • ‘The Tories are anxious not to upset anybody these days, even thugs and criminals.’
    ruffian, hoodlum, bully boy, bully, bandit, mugger, gangster, terrorist, gunman, murderer, killer, hitman, assassin, hooligan, vandal, yardie
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  • 2historical A member of a religious organization of robbers and assassins in India. Devotees of the goddess Kali, the Thugs waylaid and strangled their victims, usually travelers, in a ritually prescribed manner. They were suppressed by the British in the 1830s.

    • ‘The Thugs strangle their victims, steal their possessions, and bury them in pre-dug pits.’
    • ‘In 7th century India members of the Thug cult would ritually strangle passers-by as sacrifices to the Hindu deity, Kali.’
    • ‘The original Thugs were bands of roving criminals in India who strangled and robbed travellers.’
    • ‘The search for bandits and Thugs is based on the author's search through the records, reports and literature concerning crime and criminality in India during the 1800s.’
    • ‘A thoughtful comparative analysis of three religious groups, the Zealots, Assassins, and Thugs, by David Rapoport, indicates at least as many differences as similarities between them, particularly in the matter of intention.’


Early 19th century (in thug (sense 2)): from Hindi ṭhag ‘swindler, thief’, based on Sanskrit sthagati ‘he covers or conceals’. thug (sense 1) arose in the mid 19th century.