Why Is the Word Thug Spiking on Merriam-Webster?

A Blog About Language
Jan. 24 2014 1:09 PM

Why Is the Word Thug Spiking on Merriam-Webster?

464062985-cornerback-richard-sherman-of-the-seattle-seahawks
Seattle Seahawks cornerback Richard Sherman, after tipping a pass which led to a game-clinching interception late in the fourth quarter during the 2014 NFC Championship.

Photo by Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images

What: Thug.

When: Lookups spiked on January 23, 2014.

Advertisement

Why: Various commentators described Seattle Seahawks cornerback Richard Sherman as a "thug" because of his on-camera rant after his team won the NFC title against the San Francisco 49ers, leading Sherman to accuse his critics of deploying thug as a thinly veiled racial slur.

Sherman later added to the debate over the word's meaning by saying, "What's the definition of a thug, really? Is it a guy on a football field just talking to people?"

Where: As Merriam-Webster defines it, thug means "a violent criminal," and is synonymous with gangster and tough. It comes from the Hindi and Urdu word meaning "thief."

See what else is spiking on Merriam-Webster.

Peter Sokolowski is Editor-at-Large at Merriam-Webster.

TODAY IN SLATE

Politics

The Democrats’ War at Home

How can the president’s party defend itself from the president’s foreign policy blunders?

Congress’ Public Shaming of the Secret Service Was Political Grandstanding at Its Best

Michigan’s Tradition of Football “Toughness” Needs to Go—Starting With Coach Hoke

A Plentiful, Renewable Resource That America Keeps Overlooking

Animal manure.

Windows 8 Was So Bad That Microsoft Will Skip Straight to Windows 10

Politics

Cringing. Ducking. Mumbling.

How GOP candidates react whenever someone brings up reproductive rights or gay marriage.

Building a Better Workplace

You Deserve a Pre-cation

The smartest job perk you’ve never heard of.

Hasbro Is Cracking Down on Scrabble Players Who Turn Its Official Word List Into Popular Apps

Florida State’s New President Is Underqualified and Mistrusted. He Just Might Save the University.

  News & Politics
Politics
Sept. 30 2014 9:33 PM Political Theater With a Purpose Darrell Issa’s public shaming of the head of the Secret Service was congressional grandstanding at its best.
  Business
Moneybox
Sept. 30 2014 7:02 PM At Long Last, eBay Sets PayPal Free
  Life
Gaming
Sept. 30 2014 7:35 PM Who Owns Scrabble’s Word List? Hasbro says the list of playable words belongs to the company. Players beg to differ.
  Double X
The XX Factor
Sept. 30 2014 12:34 PM Parents, Get Your Teenage Daughters the IUD
  Slate Plus
Behind the Scenes
Sept. 30 2014 3:21 PM Meet Jordan Weissmann Five questions with Slate’s senior business and economics correspondent.
  Arts
Brow Beat
Sept. 30 2014 8:54 PM Bette Davis Talks Gender Roles in a Delightful, Animated Interview From 1963
  Technology
Future Tense
Sept. 30 2014 7:00 PM There’s Going to Be a Live-Action Tetris Movie for Some Reason
  Health & Science
Medical Examiner
Sept. 30 2014 11:51 PM Should You Freeze Your Eggs? An egg freezing party is not a great place to find answers to this or other questions.
  Sports
Sports Nut
Sept. 30 2014 5:54 PM Goodbye, Tough Guy It’s time for Michigan to fire its toughness-obsessed coach, Brady Hoke.