The History of “Thug”
I might have to stop using the word “thug” in my writing. Over the last few days, several television commentators on several cable news stations have stated that “thug” is the new code for the “N-word.” I have to take their opinions seriously because cable news commentators are known for carefully thinking about what they say before they say it.
I admit, I use the word “thug” when I write. I’ve used the word “thug” in a story that I’ve written recently. In that story, the word “thug” is racially ambiguous, but that might not come across to the reader. In today’s hostile cultural climate, a reader might see the word “thug” and assume certain attributes in my character that I hadn’t meant, and then that reader might assume that I am a racist.
I don’t want to be thought of as or accused of being a racist. I don’t want to say the “N-word.” I don’t even want to say words that rhyme with the “N-word.” I always use the word “larger.” I always say “that little lever your finger pulls to fire a gun.” I don’t like to be misinterpreted when I speak, so I speak carefully, even more carefully than cable news commentators.
Being accused of racism is serious. When I was in school, the worst thing to be accused of was passing gas. Once a kid got called a farter, his/her reputation was destroyed, even if the accusation wasn’t true. The same fear exists with racism. Once you’re accused, that’s it; your reputation is destroyed. Nowadays, the only thing worse than a racist is a farting racist because they spread both hate and nauseating smells, and that’s a bad combination.
Even though I don’t want to be accused of racism, it’s tough for me to let go of the word “thug.” I like the way it sounds. It’s short, so it’s tough to misspell. It sounds much better than “ruffian.” I really don’t want to use the word “ruffian” in place of “thug.” Nobody really gets scared of “ruffians.”
If “thug” replaces the “N-word,” I’ll blame the British. According to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, the British took the word “thug” from India in the 1800s. In its original form, it was “thag,” meaning thief. Then when the word “thug” found its way to Britain, it began to mean anybody who engaged in rough criminal behavior. I usually don’t mind blaming others for my own problems, so I blame the British for “thug.” I like the British, but this is all their fault.
Since “thug” originally meant “thief,” anybody who steals something is technically a thug. So when looters clean out a store, they technically would be “thugs.” When football player Richard Sherman was called a thug for trash talking after a football game a couple seasons ago, he had just intercepted an opponent’s pass, in effect stealing it, so technically, he was a “thug.” If he hadn’t just been a “thug,” his trash talking wouldn’t have made any sense.
If “thug” is the new “N-word,” and I can’t say it anymore, that’s going to cause problems because several common words rhyme with “thug.” I will have to “embrace” my daughters, and they’ll look at me weird when I say that. I’ll have to walk on the “small, thick carpets” in my house. I’ll have to drink coffee from my “oversized cup.” It’s annoying, but it’s a small price to pay in order not to be called racist.
If “thug” is the new “N-word,” then how are we going to refer to it when we’re talking about it? We could call it the “T-word,” but there’s already another “T-word,” and that’s going to get confusing. One “T-word” is a female body part and the other “T-word” would be considered a racial slur. In the hierarchy of culturally insensitive words, racial slurs are usually worse than body parts, so the “T-word” would be understood to mean “thug,” unless the communicator makes it clear that a female body part is being discussed instead.
One of the television commentators said that “thug” is a new code word for racists, but I haven’t been able to verify that. I’m afraid to. I’d search for the new racist code words online, but I don’t want Google to have records of me researching “racist code words.” I have enough problems (none of them racial) without Google notifying everybody that I was searching for racist code words.
I don’t want to speak in racist code, I promise. The only reason I’d search for racist code words is to make sure I wasn’t accidentally speaking in a racist code. I even looked up the word “thug” with a real dictionary so that nobody would have permanent digital proof that I looked up a word that might soon be considered racist.
Yes, I opened up a real dictionary and turned the pages and squinted my eyes. I’ll do anything to NOT be accused of being a racist.
What do you think? Do you use the word “thug” in your writing? What other questionable words or phrases do you use in your writing? What other words rhyme with “thug” that I need to avoid saying? Does anything rhyme with “ruffian”? How can I research racist code words (so that I can avoid saying them) without somebody believing that I’m a racist?