Letters: Meaning And Origins Of 'Thug'
MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:
It's time now for your angry letters. Yesterday, I spoke with John McWhorter, who teaches linguistics at Columbia University. We talked about the use of the word thug to describe those who were attacking and looting in Baltimore.
ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:
The dictionary defines thug as a brutal ruffian or assassin. John McWhorter told us the word can also mean something else.
JOHN MCWHORTER: It is a sly way of saying there go those black people ruining things again. And so anybody who wonders whether thug is becoming the new N-word doesn't need to. It most certainly is.
BLOCK: (Reading) Why did you air such a ridiculous interview with that linguist, writes Elizabeth Boswell of Topeka, Kan.
SIEGEL: And this from Sarah Lord of Baltimore - (reading) who'd have thought that an interview with an etymologist on NPR could drive me off the road?
BLOCK: Here's an email from Shelly Jennings of Annandale, Va. (Reading) I reject the professor's new definition and usage of the word. But as a black woman of a certain age, I deferred to the new generation and asked my 26-year-old daughter the definition of the word. She replied immediately with the word hoodlum. And Ms. Jennings concludes (reading) in my opinion the actions of a few individuals who set fire to buildings, damaged property and looted in Baltimore fit the standard definition of the word thug.
SIEGEL: Finally, Mike Calhoun of New Orleans had this to say. (Reading) I do not presume to question Mr. McWhorter's perception of the connotation of the word thug in the black community. But he certainly does not know what I am thinking when I use the word. It would not occur to me that the word would be a euphemism for the N-word, nor could I imagine using it that way. In fact, the people I've most recently referred to as thugs are Vladimir Putin and Justin Bieber and a certain 7-year-old to whom I happen to be related.
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