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1810, "member of a gang of murderers and robbers in India who strangled their victims," from Marathi thag, thak "cheat, swindler," Hindi thag, perhaps from Sanskrit sthaga-s "cunning, fraudulent," possibly from sthagayati "(he) covers, conceals," from PIE root *(s)teg- "cover" (see stegosaurus). Transferred sense of "ruffian, cutthroat" first recorded 1839. The more correct Indian name is phanseegur, and the activity was described in English as far back as c.1665. Rigorously prosecuted by the British from 1831, they were driven from existence, but the process extended over the rest of the 19c.
member of a well-organized confederacy of professional assassins who traveled in gangs throughout India for several hundred years. (The earliest authenticated mention of the thugs is found in Ziya'-ud-Din Barani, History of Firuz Shah, dated about 1356.) The thugs would insinuate themselves into the confidence of wayfarers and, when a favourable opportunity presented itself, strangle them by throwing a handkerchief or noose around their necks. They then plundered and buried them. All this was done according to certain ancient and rigidly prescribed forms and after the performance of special religious rites, in which the consecration of the pickax and the sacrifice of sugar formed a prominent part. Although the thugs traced their origin to seven Muslim tribes, Hindus appear to have been associated with them at an early period; at any rate, their religious creed and practices as worshipers of Kali, the Hindu goddess of destruction, showed no influence of Islam. The fraternity possessed a jargon of its own (Ramasi) and signs by which its members recognized each other