Newsweek, “The Knockout Game Has America Fearing ‘Thugs’ Once More”

November 25, 2013

Alexander Nazaryan, “The Knockout Game Has America Fearing ‘Thugs’ Once More” (Newsweek, Nov. 25, 2013)

“Thug” is an immensely pleasing word to say. It has what linguist Ben Zimmer describes to Newsweek as a “blunt monosyllabic sound,” which it shares with many of our most beloved four-letter imprecations: the f-word, the c-word. And it is wholly unambiguous in meaning. …

Zimmer (who writes about language for The Wall Street Journal in a column called “Word on the Street”) explains to Newsweek that “thug” has had “a decidedly negative connotation throughout its history in English.” It was first used pejoratively in the 19th century to describe highway robbers in India who belonged to the Thuggee cult, thus insinuating itself slowly into the lexicon as a broad term for criminal behavior. And thugs have been “knocking out” innocent folks for some time: Zimmer points to a citation in the Oxford English Dictionary from an 1895 newspaper article about “election Thugs” “engag[ing] ‘knockers-out’, who…belabour and disable voters as they are entering the booths.”

Read the rest here.

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