Ruffian, thug, hoodlum, hooligan, and lout. They all generally refer to a troublemaker, a violent man. But I wonder if there are any nuances of meaning between them. For example, we usually say "football hooligans," but why not "football hoodlums"?

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    There is some overlap in some categories but, in general: Ruffian – Currently, in its weaker form, = a rough or disreputable man or boy; thug – a man given to indiscriminate violence, often employed to administer violence; hoodlum – American English usually a lower member of an organised criminal gang; hooligan – a person given to antisocial behaviour; lout – an uneducated and badly behaved man or boy.
    – Greybeard
    Jul 24, 2020 at 9:49
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    Sometimes the difference in meaning between one word and another is not about logical denotation but rather connotations or even just the contexts it is used in. But with these words, there are actually all distinct as a dictionary would show (yes, similar, but still distinct).
    – Mitch
    Jul 24, 2020 at 13:51

2 Answers 2


"Ruffian" and "thug" are more or less synonyms, although "ruffian" is an old-fashioned term; however, both words are used for discribing criminal behaviour of the worst kind, that is murder and banditism, whereas the crimes associated with either hoodlums, looligans, and louts are not as bad, although occasionally the individuals so called can be guilty of murder; on the whole those latter are just noisy and violent lawbreakers.

I think that the reason football hoodlums is not used is because the gangs in which are found hoodlums do not associate with football events but with the life of the streets, and that of various entertainment places, such as drinking places for instance.

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    I think "football hoodlums" is not used is because "football hooligans" are a quintessentially British phenomenon, but "hoodlum" is an American usage. Jul 24, 2020 at 11:01

Of all those words I only hear "thug" regularly. Sometimes "hood" for "hoodlum". I would only use the other words when I was trying for a special effect such as affected sophistication.

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