Ever wonder where the words we use came from? The English language is an amalgamation of words from many languages and cultures, and these terms are often generated by memorable events over the course of centuries. The history behind specific words is known as etymology, and it can provide valuable insight into their true meaning. For example, the word “jumbo” came to mean “very big” because it was the name of an extra-large elephant owned by P.T. Barnum in the 1800s. We may think we know the meaning of jumbo, but not realize that it implies something as large as a 6.5-ton elephant.

The modern word

The modern word “thug” originated from the Hindi language spoken in India.

As survivalists, we may use the term “thugs” to describe marauding criminals who may steal our resources during a disaster scenario. However, understanding the etymology of this word provides some much-needed context on what thugs really are — in fact, it's even worse than our modern interpretation.

The word “thug” is derived from a word ठग्गी in the Hindi language of India. This word is pronounced as “thuggee” in English, and it is derived from another Hindi word: “thag” which means deceiver or swindler. Historically, Thugs were an organized criminal gang that thrived in India from the mid-1300s to the late 1800s. Their brutally-violent actions built a reputation over the course of these 450 years, and eventually made their name synonymous with criminality.

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Three Thug gang members restrain and strangle a sleeping traveler. Source: Wikipedia / Columbia University

Membership in the Thug gang was typically passed down from father to son, creating a actual class of trained criminals. There was also a religious element to thuggery, as the Thugs considered themselves servants of Kali, a scimitar-wielding Hindu goddess associated with destruction and renewal. Movie fans may remember references to the Thuggee and goddess Kali in Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, though this film's depiction was heavily fictionalized.

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A sketch of a 90-year-old Thug in jail, circa 1840. Source: Wikipedia / The British Library

Historical accounts tell us that Thug gang members would target isolated travelers, and blend in with their group to seem non-threatening. Then, when the targeted individual was asleep or alone, the Thugs would silently strangle their victim with a handkerchief or rope noose. Any valuables would be stolen, and the body would be disposed of quickly. The Guinness Book of World Records estimates that Thugs caused as many as two million deaths through these methods.

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Thugs stabbing the eyes of murdered travelers before throwing their bodies into a well. Source: Wikipedia / The British...

As survivalists, we should remember the history behind the term “thug”, and realize that criminals who prey on travelers are not a new phenomenon. Although the Thuggee gang is no longer in existence, we should always be aware of our surroundings, prepare to defend ourselves, and avoid falling victim to modern-day thuggery.

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