[Ads-l] antedates for "thuggery," 'thug'= ruffian

Ben Zimmer bgzimmer at GMAIL.COM
Sat May 9 18:35:17 UTC 2015

On Sat, May 9, 2015 at 1:24 PM, Geoffrey Nunberg wrote:
> Also antedating the Carlyle cite, "thug" in its transferred
> sense occurs in a letter in The Lincoln, Rutland and
> Stamford Mercury, Sept. 1, 1837. "I will confine myself
> to the mere matter of accusation pressed so venemously
> against me by the hired Thugs of the Conservative
> newspapers...." My guess, though, is that inasmuch as
> the literal use of "thug" is attested as early as 1810, the
> transferred use is probably older than 1837.

This is a nice find, and I wouldn't expect there to be antedatings of
the transferred sense much earlier than that, since the UK popular
press didn't pay much attention to Indian Thugs before a widely
circulated and excerpted article in the Jan. 1837 issue of the
Edinburgh Review on "The Thugs; or, Secret Murderers of India."

Other examples from a bit earlier in 1837 show that "Thugs" (or, in
the first cite below, "Thuggism") had begun to be used similatively,
before being fully transferred to domestic contexts.

Freeman's Journal and Daily Commercial Advertiser (Dublin, Ireland),
Feb. 15, 1837
For instance, what was the famous Cryptia of Sparta, that nefarious
system of legalised assassination, levelled against those of the
Helots, who excited the jealousy of the government by eminent
qualities of mind and body? What was it but Orangeism, or open
Caledonian Mercury (Edinburgh, Scotland), Feb. 20, 1837
The system of compromise must be abandoned, and Reformers must hold
their course as if there were no such beings as Thugs or Tories in the
The Examiner (London, England), Sunday, June 11, 1837
The Lords can only be said to dispatch the legislative business
brought before them in the destructive sense of the word dispatch, and
as the Thugs are said to dispatch their victims.


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