As I was writing my previous column about “bugs,” it occurred to me that there’s a natural unattractiveness in the sound “ug.”

As I was writing my previous column about “bugs,” it occurred to me that there’s a natural unattractiveness in the sound “ug.” Only a few words begin with it, chiefly the “ugly” group.
The other is “ugh,” an interjection “used to express disgust, horror, etc.” It has several pronunciations; Webster’s calls “ug” the conventionalized one.

As I dug into “ug,” however, I found it popping up in an impressive array of words, and some of them, like “hug,” are downright warm and fuzzy.

As might be expected, the group contains some “echoic” words — those that are “imitative in sound,” also known as “onomatopoeic.” Among them:

“Chug.” It’s the sound a locomotive makes. By extension, to chug is to make or move with such sounds. It’s also an abbreviated version of the slang “chug-a-lug,” meaning “to drink in continuous gulps or in a single, long gulp” — also noisy.

“Glug.” Another word associated with the sound of flowing liquids, and particularly while they’re being consumed in gulps. Much rarer is “guggle,” an alternative form of “gurgle.”

“Jug.” This uncommon use of the word is for “a sound meant to imitate a nightingale’s note.” The origin of the most common “jug” is even stranger, so stay tuned for that.

Something unexpected in my “ug” exploration was a Sanskrit connection. For example, “thug” — “a rough, brutal hoodlum, gangster, robber, etc.”

The original “thugs” (sometimes capitalized) were members of “a former group in India that murdered and robbed” in the name of a Hindu goddess named Kali. Webster’s says she was “viewed both as destroying life and as giving it.” Her followers apparently focused only on the destruction part.

The word “thug” came from the Hindi “thag” for “swindler,” which in turn was derived from the Sanskrit “sthraga” — “a cheat, rogue.”

So “thug” isn’t an American invention, and in fact, neither is “hoodlum.” Webster’s says it probably came from the German dialectical “hudilump” for “wretched, miserable fellow.”

The other common word with its roots in Sanskrit is “juggernaut,” which English has adopted for “anything that exacts blind devotion or terrible sacrifice” and “any relentless, destructive, irresistible force.”

Both of these definitions are true to the Hindi “Jagannath,” from which it was derived, and its precursor, the Sanskrit “Jagannatha,” or “lord of the world.”

Altered to become “Juggernaut,” the capitalized version is an incarnation of the Hindu god Vishnu. An idol of the god, so the story goes, would be hauled around on a large cart during religious rites, sending worshippers into such a frenzy that they would cast themselves under the wheels and be crushed.

That’s too worshipful for me.

And now for “jug.” Webster’s says this word for a type of “container for liquids” was “apparently a pet form of Judith or Joan.” “The Oxford Dictionary of Word Histories” agrees that “Jug” was “a pet form of the given names Joan, Joanna and Jenny,” with the word appearing in the mid-16th century.

Since then, “jug” has acquired several slang associations, among them “jail” or “prison” (first recorded in 1834); in the plural, “a woman’s breasts” (1920); and “jughead” for “a stupid person; fool; klutz” (1926). The dates are courtesy of “American Slang.”

With that track record, I can’t imagine a modern Judith, Joan or Jenny wanting to be nicknamed “Jug.”

Next week: Other members of the “ug” clan.

Contact Barry Wood at bwood@rrstar.com or read his blog at blogs.e-rockford.com/woodonwords/.