The Curious History of the Word ‘Thug’

The word ‘thug’ has been part of the urban dictionary of street life for decades, especially with the rise in popularity of hip hop. But have you ever wondered where the word came from? For those who have been using it carelessly without knowing its history, you might be surprised at how dark and eerie its roots are.

Thug originates from the word Thuggee, which has long roots in Indian religious culture. It is Sanskrit, meaning to hide or conceal, and is usually associated with mystic secrecy. From around 1300 till the late 1800s, a thuggee was a person who claimed to be Hindu or Buddhist who was part of a violent, lawless cult. This cult was centered around the black/blue goddess of sexuality and violence named Kali, who herself was a fierce aspect of the supreme Hindu goddess Devi. Thuggees would conspire to gain the confidence of travelers, and once the trust was established, would strangle them to death. As describes them:

Thugs were a well organized, hereditary cult that practiced large scale robbery and murder, justified by their belief in serving Kali. Membership induction was often passed from father to son, with the women of the home being kept unaware of the men’s cult activity.

…Murder and robbery were considered by Thugs as a religious duty and they considered themselves to be holy and honorable men. Such abhorrent behavior did not affect their moral feelings. They followed the instructions and will of their goddess through their interpretation of a very complicated system of omens. They often traveled extensively to accomplish their goals of murdering a wayward traveler.

Kali, Goddess of Sexuality and Destruction

It is estimated that these thugs eventually killed about 40,000 people per year, amounting to millions over 5 centuries. In the late 1800s, a bigger, more sinister group of colonial thugs from the British Empire wiped out the original OGs of the Indian thug cult.

This is one of those stories that should make you think twice before using names loosely until you know its history.

Interestingly, the goddess Kali is quite popular in the entertainment industry. If you ever notice your favorite celebrities sticking their tongue out in various poses for professional photographers, unbeknownst to you, they are thuggin’ and mean muggin’ in tribute to Kali.

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