The only thing that the words thief and thug have in common, aside from their first two letters, is that they suggest the felonious taking of what is not theirs. A thief may steal secretly or slyly — a sneak thief. He might pick a pocket. A thug is a different breed of animal; he is a hoodlum, a ruffian, a violent criminal.
The word thug is said to have been derived from the Indian cult known as Thuggee, derived from the Sanskrit sthag, meaning «to conceal». But it might have come from the Hindustani word thag, «a cheat». Then again, the British euphemistically called thugs the religious fanatics who were members of an Indian sect called Phansigars (noose operators) from the method employed. They worshiped Kali, the Hindu goddess of destruction, and, using scarves, they strangled people, usually wealthy persons, and robbed them. Then, in a ceremony in accordance with the sect’s religious belief, they buried their victims and divided the loot among the cult members.
Lord William Bentniclc began the suppression of these terrorists in 1828, when the British hanged 412 of them and sentenced a few thousand to prison. It took more than fifty years to extinguish this blot on human dignity. Their brutality has given us the word thug, which in common parlance means any violent «tough».