AskDefine | Define ragamuffin

Dictionary Definition

ragamuffin n : a dirty shabbily clothed urchin [syn: tatterdemalion]

User Contributed Dictionary



From the Middle English Ragamuffyn.


  • /ˈrægəˌmʌfɪn/


  1. A dirty, shabbily-clothed child; an urchin.
  2. (According to Brewer's Dictionary of Phrase and Fable): A muffin is a poor thing of a creature, a 'regular muff'; so that a ragamuffin is a sorry creature in rags.
  3. A breed of domestic cat which is an off shoot from the Ragdoll.

Usage notes

Currently this word is slang, used either for anachronistic effect or as dialogue in historical fiction.


  • 1597 — William Shakespeare, 1 Hen IV v 3
    I have led my ragamuffins where they are peppered: there's not three of my hundred and fifty left alive; and they are for the town's end, to beg during life.
  • 1868 — Louisa May Alcott, Little Women, Ch. 47
    “But may I inquire how you intend to support the establishment? If all the pupils are little ragamuffins, I’m afraid your crop won’t be profitable in a worldly sense, Mr. Bhaer.”
  • 1882 — Mark Twain, The Prince and the Pauper, Ch. 12
    'Yes, he is mine—I took him, a homeless little ragamuffin, but I saw what was in him, and I said his name would be heard some day—behold him, observe him—was I right?'
  • 1906 — Upton Sinclair, The Jungle, Ch. 18
    After walking a ways, Jurgis met a little ragamuffin whom he hailed: "Hey, sonny!"
  • 1916 — John Buchan, Greenmantle, Ch. 15
    He had found out the house of Frau von Einem without much trouble, and had performed with his ragamuffins in the servants' quarters.

Extensive Definition

The term ragamuffin (or raggamuffin) is used to refer to a child clothed in shabby, ill-fitting or dirty clothes. More generally it can also be used as a pejorative term to refer to a ragged, disreputable person. It is also used as a term of endearment - for example, when people refer to children as "little ragamuffins".

Evolution of meaning

The word is believed to have originated either from the Middle English "Ragamoffyn", which is the name of a demon in the poem Piers Plowman by William Langland, or from the Middle English "Ragamuffyn", which was a personal name derived from raggi (ragged) and the Middle Dutch moffel or muffe (mitten).
In the 1980s, however, particularly in West London and Brixton, the word took on a new meaning, that of a dangerous, disaffected, black teenage or young adult male. Ragamuffins or 'Raggas' prided themselves on violently attacking white males, often with knives, frequently on the grounds of claims of racism. Ragamuffins typically dressed in hooded tops, jeans and Nike or Adidas trainers, and listened to electro and early hip hop music.
Raggamuffin (with two Gs) is also a Jamaican term and has been used in Jamaica both to describe individuals and a style of music. More recently the term has entered the mainstream, meaning a particular style of dancehall music which has its roots in Jamaica (see Shaggy). they do not have eight babies, they have just seven

Related words

The term "rags" is used to refer to ragged or tattered clothing. In slang, can also be used to refer to clothes in general, as in "Check out my new rags". Informally, "rags" can also refer to a newspaper or magazine that is regarded with contempt or distaste, as in "Do you really subscribe to that rag?"
So-called "West London patois" incorporates many Jamaican words. The verb "to rag" is derived from ragamuffin and means "to steal", as in "I chased dat chalky down de street and ragged him", meaning "I chased that white man down the street and performed a street robbery."
ragamuffin in Hebrew: רגמפין

Synonyms, Antonyms and Related Words

Arab, beach bum, beachcomber, beggar, bo, bum, bummer, dogie, gamin, gamine, guttersnipe, hobo, homeless waif, idler, landloper, lazzarone, loafer, losel, mudlark, orphan, piker, ragman, ragpicker, rounder, scarecrow, ski bum, stiff, stray, street Arab, street urchin, sundowner, surf bum, swagman, swagsman, tatterdemalion, tennis bum, tramp, turnpiker, urchin, vag, vagabond, vagrant, waif, waifs and strays, wastrel
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