• ragamuffin •
Pronunciation: ræg-ê-mê-fin • Hear it!
Part of Speech: Noun
Meaning: A dirty and shabbily dressed or just mussy child.
Notes: This is a word seldom used today since we rarely see children in raggedy clothes these days. However, all children who play outdoors look like ragamuffins at some point in their lives, so it is nice that we have this Good Word to use in refer to the way they look good-naturedly. The muffin in its composition allows it to be used in reference to anyone we might be tempted to call 'cupcake' in a clean state.
In Play: As mentioned above, this word is used less today in referring to raggedy children than to kids whose clothes are grimy and rumpled: "Who let the kids play outside after the rain? They look like a gang of ragamuffins!" In Jamaica, where ragga is a dance hall variation of reggae music, people into ragga are often called raggamuffins (watch out for the double G).
Word History: Today's Good Word clearly may be divided into raga- and muffin. The raga- comes from Middle English ragge "rag". The sense of ragged was used of the devil from the 14th century on because of his shaggy appearance. William Langland named a demon in Piers Plowman "Ragamoffyn". The sense of naughtiness comes from this association: how many of us have called a rowdy child a little demon? Muffin (or moffyn) in this context may have been influenced by Middle Dutch muffe "mitten", which also ended up in English as muff. In Middle German, Muffe meant "cupcake", but the sense of "ragged mittens" made more sense in Middle English. The conversion of muffe (or moffyn) to muffin is no doubt the result of folk etymology but, since this word is also a term of endearment like cupcake, it conveys a sense of sympathy to this word. (Today we thank Billie Brighwell for suggesting this shaggy but endearing Good Word of the day.)