I am designing a board game in which you are a member of mafia and not a nice person. There is an action in the game named 'reputation' (or 'build reputation'). I need to write a short introductory sentence, something like 'You decide to build a reputation as a tough guy, bla bla' but I don't want women players to feel excluded by the language. Is there a gender neutral alternative? I can use something else such as 'thug', 'hitman' etc. but all seems to suffer from the same problem. Any suggestions?

  • gun moll? . . .
    – Xanne
    Nov 18, 2022 at 10:15
  • 1
    Just drop the word guy. The full OED has plain tough defined as A person given to rough or violent behaviour well over half a century before tough guy (definition a person not easily injured or thwarted, first recorded 1932). OR go along with the increasing tendency to treat guy in such contexts as gender-neutral. Nov 18, 2022 at 15:53
  • Do you mean someone who's physically strong and good in a fight, things which "tough guy" usually denotes. Or do you just mean someone who is powerful or who is feared?
    – Stuart F
    Nov 18, 2022 at 16:25
  • Perhaps tough character
    – DjinTonic
    Nov 19, 2022 at 0:00

3 Answers 3


Heavy, (pl. heavies)

B. n. [absolute use of the adjective.]

2.e. A strongly built person, usually of violent disposition.

1936 P. G. Wodehouse Laughing Gas v. 62 It's his sister Beulah. She was the one who put him up to it. She's the heavy in the sequence. As tough as they come.

1970 G. Greer Female Eunuch 194 Cherry is surrounded by threatening creatures, mostly the nightclub heavies.

1973 Times 12 July 4/1 Prostitutes were threatened with ‘heavies’ working for a man named Kenny Lynch.

And linked to the Mafia: Irish NewsMeath 27 Mar 2016 — Leaders of the ruthless Kinahan cartel have surrounded themselves with mafia “heavies” to protect them from the Hutch gang.


If you want to replace "tough guy" with something that doesn't contain "guy", one good option is:


  • a violent person
  • a strong person who is not easily made weaker or defeated

The Cambridge dictionary marks it as "old-fashioned informal", which I think is unfair - it may be informal, but it doesn't sound too old-fashioned to me (maybe I am getting old). M-W does not mark it as such, and indeed has a number of recent examples.


There was no effort at the time to find gender neutral terms. They were gangsters. Some did things like cooking for the guys. They did the same stuff their male counterparts did, although they sometimes testified against them.


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