I Am Taking Back the Word Thug


The recent brouhaha about Richard Sherman is not important to me. I don’t care what he said after the NFC Championship. I really don’t care. But I do care that he was called a thug. Actually, I don’t care much about that either, but I do understand from SO that some people have made way too much out of Sherman’s statements and erroneously called him a thug.

What I care about is how Sherman is characterizing the use of that word. He’s certainly entitled to fight back when he’s been unfairly ostracized for what he said. But he’s overreacting as well, and trying to change the meaning of a word to something racist, and I’m calling a vigorous bullshit on that. Thug does not mean the n-word. Maybe to some select group out there it might, but I don’t think thug means the n-word to most people. To most it still means someone who is up to no good and often found to be a bully — period.

I resent like hell that I feel pressure to qualify future use of that word. And I’m tired of people in the news co-opting words so they become inflammatory and to use them may immediately brand someone a racist. Who wants to keep up with that? To keep up with what you can and cannot say on every little bitty word so that you do not offend anyone, anywhere at anytime?

To the readers of this blog and anyone who knows me in real life interactions, I am going to use the word thug when I want to use it, and it will not mean the n-word!

And for the record, the autograph thugs were all white guys. Just sayin’.

note: I also understand from SO that Richard Sherman is brilliant intellectually as well as athletically and feel certain he can handle himself through this situation.


  1. May I add that he graduated from Stanford with an extremely high GPA. As you SO noted he is NO dummy. He doesn’t need the media to fight his battles. He was excited, he made a mistake, he apologized. Get over it people.

  2. Yep, that’s what SO told me — he’s a Stanford graduate and very sharp. I think people were too harsh, and he is responding in kind. I just hate to see a good word for describing, well, a thug, be used for something else.

  3. Some of the press has too much time on their hands. So, one of them are always trying to make something of nothing, wherever they go. Anything for a story or byline, I think!

  4. You are so right!

  5. I know a white male professor (Princeton and Notre Dame) who uses ‘thug’ to describe many people most of us would not describe in that way, including various professional athletes, even when the latter are not doing anything except playing sports. It was noteworthy to me that he used it first in my hearing of black NBA players, and it came across to me as having racist undertones. He then used it repeatedly of different people and it became clear that to him and his circle it meant anyone not wearing a suit and tie, or was muscular or had tattoos, etc. However it still retained a certain quality to me and others, so I can understand why some people might put a particular construction on its use, especially in this case, where it is undeserved.

    That being said: you are of course totally correct in that in itself, ‘thug’ isn’t a racist term and people using it shouldn’t have to fear being called racists because of others’ incorrect understanding of the term.

  6. You are so high up on that horse, we didn’t even get a gratuitous pic of Richard Armitage. Calm down, Girl Frayand (and by “Girl Frayand” I meant friend who is a girl – that is all)!

  7. I just wanna use the word thug when I wanna use it. *pout*

  8. Use away. If Tupac can do it, so can you. :-D

  9. Thing is “Thug” has been co-opted by Gangsta rap, beginning with Tu Pac. Tu Pac defined “thug” as someone who has had, or is having, a rough life and they stay strong and power on through. To that particular subculture, it’s a positive term: A man who is tough not just physically, but emotionally.

    Unfortunately, because of the association with Gansta rap and that sub-culture of African Americans, it can be thrown around as a negative, possibly as racist, term by people outside the subculture who don’t understand the subculture’s definition. They only understand: Thug-gangtsa-bad-black person.

    The equivalent would be someone calling every Latino a “Chollo” as an insult, not understanding what the sub-cultural association of the word actually is. (Which is, again, to them is a positive, but the other person is using it as a racist negative.)

    The safest thing with these terms is to be wary of throwing them at certain groups if you are not a part of that group.

    And honesty, “thug” itself comes from a cult of professional assassins in India and was co-opted by the English to mean a low class criminal. So…*shrug*

  10. Very true, Kiplingkat. Witness the use of the n-word. Okay for some within a group, but never for those outside it.

  11. Just as the gay community uses derogatory terms at each other in a friendly informal way, but it’s not o.k. for those outside the group to call them a “queer” because that is seen as an attack. If a female friend calls me “b&%ch” (and I have a pal who has a degree in English lit and likes to keep her conversational English spicy) I know she is saying it in a friendly way. But if a guy calls me “b&%ch,” I’m going to think they are attacking me.

    Whether the adoption of the term in-group is actually a good idea is up for debate, but at the moment we have to deal with the social realities.

  12. Actually, I am reminded of a scene in ST:TNG where Data attempts to engage in “friendly jibes and insults” and fails miserably. Fortunately, he fails with Geordi who is very forgiving. I guess when approaching a culture outside one’s own, we should consider ourselves to be Data, navigating a part of humanity we don’t fully understand and so erring on the side of caution.

  13. Or Sheldon Cooper, who similarly fails.

  14. P.S. That was “Data’s Day” for the truly geeky. Great episode.

  15. Well, the difference between Sheldon and Data is Data wants to fit in, wants to understand humanity. Sheldon only tries to as camouflage. He knows he supposed to act like lesser mortals, so he tries…occasionally. I believe it was pointed out that Sheldon is one disastrous lab accident away from being a supervillain.

  16. Sheldon is like Data, without the humility and warmth :-D

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