ræf-ish • Hear it!
Part of Speech: Adjective
Meaning: 1. Vulgarly showy, cheap and tacky, tawdry. 2. Rakish, devilishly attractive, seductively disreputable with a 'devil-may-care' attitude.
Notes: Today's adjective is subject to the usual adjectival variations, an adverb, raffishly and a noun, raffishness. Look out for the double F and you should have no trouble with the spelling of this word.
In Play: Although raffish can refer to tawdry dress, it is very mildly pejorative if pejorative at all: "Marigold came in from the garden with her water can dangling raffishly from her belt." At worst Marigold might be flirting with with her unusual accessory. When referring to pushing the envelope of personal behavior, it does not imply pushing it very far: "The raffish hippy of the 60s was now a staid member of the Establishment, managing accounts at a Wall Street brokerage house." Raffish people are out of rhythm with the rest of us but attractively so.
Word History: Today's Good Word was based on Swedish rafs "rubbish, rags", which also turns up in the rhyming compound riff-raff. Raff also means "a large number, a collection", but when it returned to US English in the 50s, it was most often pronounced raft by folk etymology, the tendency for speakers to convert unfamiliar words to familiar ones. This is all we know about raffish. (Katy Brezger is to be thanked for suggesting today's intriguing word; she knows a raff of them.)