Is “thug” really the new, socially acceptable, form of the “n-word”?


You want a real thug? Meet Al Capone.


I was, frankly, surprised at this claim when I first heard it from Richard Sherman.


It didn’t strike me as true at all.  When I think of “thugs,” I believe I seldom if ever think of blacks.  If anything, frankly, I’m probably usually picturing Mafia “muscle” — presumably of Italian or Italian-American origin.  Guido.  Giovanni “Johnny the Fist” Falcone.  Union enforcers.  Stereotypical.


Is it generational?  Am I simply out of touch?  A few others have, I understand, come forward to support Mr. Sherman’s claim.


Is it generational for him?  Is it unique to his particular vantage point, based on his individual biography?  He grew up black in Compton, California, apparently an exceptionally intelligent young man (who prospered, academically, at Stanford).


Feedback would be welcome.  (The virtually inevitable insults and name-calling rather less so.)  When you think of the word “thug,” what kind of image, if any, comes to mind?  And, if one does, can you figure out why?


In the meantime, read this short little piece by a British-born author who shares my skepticism.


Posted from Orlando, Florida



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  • Sharee

    I’ve always thought of a thug as a criminal or bully. Doesn’t matter what color.

  • kjus

    This is a good article I read

    The other comes from the man himself.

    No one under 40 thinks a thug is someone in the mafia.

    • DanielPeterson

      “No one under 40 thinks a thug is someone in the mafia.”

      I wonder if that’s true.

      • kiwi57

        It probably is, if 40 refers to IQ.

        But apart from that, I don’t think “thug” means someone in the mafia. However, I do think there are probably a lot of mafia thugs.
        There are also thugs of no particular race or gang affiliation on the sidelines of some sports events I’ve attended. And some, regrettably, on the fields as well.

  • ClintonKing

    To me the word ‘thug’ has been synonymous with the words ‘goon’ and ‘enforcer’. More recently, I have seen it applied in the news to African-American football players. Another image that comes to mind is the scene from Peter Jackson’s version of the Two Towers in which Gandalf, Aragorn, Legolas, and Gimli confront Wormtongue and release Theoden from Saruman’s spell. It’s kind of fun to watch Aragorn, Legolas, and Gimli beat up on Wormtongue’s thugs.
    Biographical information: I am a 34 year old white male, born and raised in Utah, Mormon, spend two years in the Philippines, MS in chemistry, married with 4 children.

  • Michael P.

    So I am under 40 (under 30 too) and when I think of a “thug”, I think of just a generic bad guy of no real importance. I liked ClintonKing’s example from LOTR. Thugs just do the dirty work for the real bad guys.
    I don’t think of black people or people of any particular race really. If it helps, I have Italian heritage with ancestors with the last name of Guido that were in the Chicago mob 80 or so years ago.

  • mike

    When I think of ‘thug,’ my first thought is a gangsta rapper. I was in high school in Cleveland in the early 1990s. We heard the word thug in relation to rappers like Dr. Dre, Tupac, and Cleveland’s own Bone Thugs ‘N Harmony. The music by the latter group was ubiquitous in my teenage years. Still, that was 20 years ago. I wonder what today’s 16 year olds think of the word.

  • kjus

    I think this is the best article I’ve read regarding the word that shall not be uttered and it’s influence in the sports culture.