What Is the Origin of the Word Ragamuffin?
“Ragamuffin,” is one of those funny words usually used to describe a child who is dressed in rags and is usually dirty and poor. Other interesting synonyms include descriptive words such as guttersnipe, hobo, vagabond, and tatterdemalion. You can probably see why many mothers would stick with ragamuffin.
Its origin dates back to the late 14th century, when Ragamoffyn was used as the name of a demon in a poem titled Piers Plowman. The “raga” part of the word most likely comes from the Middle English “ragge,” which means rag. This makes sense because early descriptions of the demon character often used the word “ragged” to describe his shabby appearance.
As for the “muffin” part of the word, there are multiple theories. Some scholars believe it comes from the Middle Dutch word “muffe,” which means mitten. “Ragged mittens” would certainly fit with today’s understanding of a ragamuffin.
Others believe the origin is the Middle German word “muffe,” which means cupcake. This would fit with the description of the word found in Brewer’s Dictionary of Phrase and Fable: “A muffin is a poor thing of a creature…so that a ragamuffin is a sorry creature in rags.”
Whatever its true origin, we know today what a ragamuffin looks like, and we all look like ragamuffins from time to time when we work hard and play.