What did Eliza Doolittle say? “Words, words, words, I’m so sick of words.” Well, there’s a word I’m sick of. It’s a word that’s being used to describe a group of people and the thing is, it’s really the wrong word.
The word thug.
I know about this word because I listened to an audio book, “The Deceivers” by John Masters and I learned a great deal about Thugs, or Thugees.
How did this word evolve? What is its etomology?
According to answers.com it goes back to the early 1800s where the word “thag” in Hindi meant swindler. As the British conquered India they began to use the word “thuggies” to indicate any group of outlaws.
The Online etymology dictionary tells us this:
“The thugs roamed about the country in bands of from 10 to 100, usually in the disguise of peddlers or pilgrims, gaining the confidence of others, whom they strangled when a favorable opportunity presented itself, with a handkerchief, an unwound turban, or a noosed cord. The shedding of blood was seldom resorted to. The motive of the thugs was not so much lust of plunder as a certain religious fanaticism. The bodies of their victims were hidden in graves dug with a consecrated pickax, and of their spoil one third was devoted to the goddess Kali, whom they worshiped.”
So, using the word thug to describe angry young men living in an impoverished ghetto and rioting…well, what do you think? Is it the right word?
Are these young men doing it for a god?
Is it part of their religion?
Are they giving part of the spoils to a god?
Do you understand why I am puzzled?
The word has stayed with me since listening to Master’s book. It’s an astonishing tale of a young British soldier who becomes obsessed with finding out who the thugs are. He finds out all right. He becomes one of them. He learns how to quickly kill with his cord. He learns the secret of the sugar. He learns the power of Kali. It is a very powerful story and not an easy one to listen to. I can still hear the chanting. I can still picture the killings.
So again I ask, is thug the right word?
Words, words, words.