It’s strange how certain words evolve over time to favour the establishment, reinforce the status quo, and quash any opposition. There are numerous words that we use on an almost daily basis whose etymology shows an obvious path of racism, xenophobia, jingoism, the subversion of foreign cultures, and sometimes the suppression of their attempts at dissent. It may not exactly be George Orwell’s “Newspeak” from Nineteen Eighty-Four, but if we forget why and how certain words originated, we lose sight of history and future history as we sleepwalk into the next phase of oppression and blinkered servility.
Firstly we have the word “barbarian” or “barbaric”. This is often used to conjure-up ideas of vicious wickedness. After the September 11th attacks for instance, Tony Blair called the terrorist acts “barbarism”. The word “barbarian” however, was first used by the Greeks to describe all foreigners. It’s said that the word may have an onomatopoeic origin, with the Greeks using the sound “bar bar” as a bigoted representation of other languages (think the worst ’70s comedian doing a bad African or Asian accent). So when someone calls a violent atrocity “barbaric”, they’re basically calling it foreign, as if their own culture, race, or country is incapable of such heinous and immoral acts. In this instance, we know that labelling 9/11 “barbaric” whether intentionally or not, had both a xenophobic and jingoistic effect, and it led to the deaths of more than 71,000 civilians in Afghanistan and between 184,000 to over 207,000 civilian deaths in Iraq. So that’s nearly 300,000 innocent lives lost because our leaders saw terrorism as perpetrated by those foreigners over there, those bar-bar-speaking barbarians who are so much vicious than our own people, government, and military forces. Yeah, sure.
Onward to the next two words. The word “thug” is readily used in contemporary society to describe a violent criminal or a hooligan, but many times it’s also used as a synonym for an uncontrollable person during any kind of civil unrest. During any riot or protest for example, the media, members of the police force, and government, eagerly use the word “thug” to distract from the issue at hand. Priti Patel described the actions of some of the Black Lives Matter protesters as “thuggery” in parliament, and when the statue of Winston Churchill was graffiti-ed, many journalists labelled it “vandalism”, but these two words have origins that are much different than their current mainstream media and establishment-approved uses.
If you take a step back for a minute and imagine a newly-built white wall, you can look at that wall in isolation as merely an object, in this case clean, strong, protective, and even beautiful. But if that wall surrounds a government building, during times of disagreement it will inevitably get graffitied. If in this scenario the wall is defaced with paint, the biased media will want you to ignore what this wall represents, and therefore any graffiti will inevitably be described as “vandalism” and the perpetrator of such an act will be described as a “thug” but that’s missing the point entirely. The action of “vandalising” an object is a representation of mood and feeling, in this hypothetical case it’s a message to whatever that wall protects. If someone doesn’t agree with the government, its buildings will be defaced. Focussing on the minor crime is deflecting from the issue at hand; what has the government done to warrant this graffiti? What are the people who graffitied it asking for? Can and should the government change since it’s the leaders’ actions (or inaction) that led to the said graffiti in the first place? These questions are rarely asked, instead words like “thugs” and “vandals” are used to quickly place an image in the public’s mind, an image of wrong-doing and lawlessness, an image of pure evil that must be quashed.
So where does the word “vandal” originate? Well, the Vandals were a Germanic tribe who founded a kingdom in North Africa and battled the Goths and Huns. If you look them up on the internet, they may be referred to as “barbarians” which we now know the original meaning of. Because the Vandals sacked Rome in the year 455, we use this word as a synonym for the destruction of public property. Ignoring the fact that the Vandals raided Rome’s wealth but left the city’s buildings intact, the devastation of cities and whole countries is what inevitably happens during any and all wars and invasions (including so-called “liberations”) so why single out the Vandals as unique? Is it because they eventually lost to the Romans? Once again, it’s to do with the fact that the Vandals were the foreigners of the day and the victors got to write or re-write history and create a disparaging word directed toward their enemy. Let’s completely ignore the fact that Rome itself invaded Britannia (England and Wales), Hispania (Spain), Gaul (France), Achaea (Greece), Judea (the Middle East) and the North African coastal region. So why don’t we use the word “Roman” to mean war-like or invaders? Oh yes, because the Romans won, which means the Roman Empire was full of peace and civility… not.
A vanquished race or culture never gets to speak on the authenticity of their history. Take the Philistines for example, a race of non-Semitic people from what we now know as Israel, Palestine, Jordan, and the southern portions of Syria and Lebanon (and possibly Crete). Having left no record of their civilisation themselves, we only have the Bible’s accounts, and since they had conflicts with the Israelites, they are spoken about with disdain. Directly because of the biblical narrative, “Philistine” has gone on to mean uncultured and uneducated. Hey, if contemporary Western culture and mainstream media shapes our language in the future, I wonder what “Palestinian” will go on to mean in a few hundred years? But I digress.
Lastly, we have the word “Thug” which derives from the Hindi “Thag” which my search engine tells me means swindler or thief. During the British Empire in India, Thugs were simultaneously (and conveniently) a nation-wide gang, a religious cult, and a secret society as well as general bandits, thieves, and murderers; essentially anything and everything that could stand in the way of British rule. By grouping together any and all criminals and labelling them, much like “Anti-Vaxxers”, “Conspiracy Theorists” or the overused “Far Left” and “Far Right”, those in power could (and still can) brush genuine criticism or anti-establishment views under the rug… All these people are wrong, they’re all part of one giant group I tell ya, so let’s treat them as one big problem and vilify them so every issue we face can be ignored and suppressed! …Many historians agree that the idea of the Thug or Thuggee is most likely fictitious and probably an invention of the British colonial powers. We can assume that any uprising and attacks against the British by the Indians was simply labelled as “Thuggery” and these “wrong-doers” were swiftly convicted. Everyone in the commonwealth then cheered as the Brits quashed a gargantuan and clandestine Männerbund that apparently crossed religious and presumably caste lines (another tidbit of information that makes this concept sound like utter bullshit and propaganda of the time).
In contemporary society, the word “thug” is still used in the colonial sense. Gangsta Rap which is built on negativity and stereotyping (probably why it was heavily promoted and became popular) uses the word copiously and reinforces its Imperialist meaning. From Tupac’s “Thug Life” tattoo, the band name “Bone Thugs-N-Harmony”, the stage name “Young Thug”, various songs by Trick Daddy, 50 Cent, Dr. Dre, Snoop, Ice Cube, and Mobb Deep (to name but a few) to NORE’s “Thugged Out Entertainment”, the word is continuously used as a synonym for criminal (or wannabe criminal) in this genre. You’d think that the son of a Black Panther would know better than to use his overseer’s belittling language but I guess famous people are only there to further the agenda of the establishment. To be fair to Tupac Shakur, he did say in this 1994 interview:
“I’m a thug, and my definition of thug comes from half of the street element and half of the Panther element, half of the independence movement. Saying we want self-determination. We want to do it by self-defence and by any means necessary. That came from my family and that’s what thug life is. It’s a mixture.”
That being said, Tupac – who was questioned on the meaning numerous times – also said this (according to Genius) in Tupac: Resurrection:
“When I’m saying ‘thug’, I mean not criminal – someone who beats you up and that – I mean the underdog, the person that nothing succeeds; he’s a thug, because he overcome all obstacles, it doesn’t have anything to do with the dictionaries’ version of thug, for me thug is my pride, not being someone who goes against the law, not being someone to take, but being someone who has nothing, and that he don’t have nothing”
It seams that Tupac more often than not, declared that his definition is different from the actual definition, which to me means that the official term is correct in all other cases. At any rate, the word has now gone way beyond Tupac with “thug” being so overused in Hip-Hop that it’s begun to sound embarrassingly clichéd outside of the first two decades of its usage.
Given the “Thug Life” meme from a few years ago, we’re now shown kids using expletive language or an ironic use of the term over a “harmless” white, middle-class person’s photo, thus losing Tupac’s apparent meaning in the quagmire of pop culture that’s teeming in Scarface-inspired imagery; guns, cigars, bathtubs, and jewellery. Stick a blunt and pixelated sunglasses over any image depicting “bad behaviour” and apparently you have a “thug”.
So thanks to the British Empire, American entertainment, and twenty-first century popular culture, “thug” will forever mean “a violent person, especially a criminal”, thanks to the Greeks “barbarian” will always mean “an uncultured or brutish person”, thanks to the Bible “philistine” means “a person who is hostile towards culture and the arts” and thanks to the Romans a “vandal” is “a person who deliberately destroys or damages property belonging to others”. God forbid you become an enemy of the establishment or you’ll be denigrated in all the history books until you’re a noun or a bloody adjective. Like the line in Ras Kass’ “Nature Of The Threat”; the Man got game like a motherfucker.
Barbaric Thuggish Philistines Vandalise A Dictionary.
This was originally an article about the word “Thug” which I started writing in 2014. I then added the other definitions in 2019 and 2020 . Certain stats and links have been updated in 2022.