Lexicon Valley

Why Is the Word Thug Spiking on Merriam-Webster?

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.

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.