Printable Version
Pronunciation: -fi-ên Hear it!

Part of Speech: Noun

Meaning: Roughneck, bully, troublemaker, tough guy.

Notes: Ruffian has a huge lexical family. The quality of one may be designated as ruffianage, ruffianship, ruffianhood or ruffianism, and ruffians may be referred to collectively as ruffiandom. This word has three adjectives, ruffianly, ruffian-like and the now obsolete ruffianous (with its noun ruffianosity). Someone slightly like a ruffian may be called ruffianish. Some of these may be old fashioned, but all are in the Oxford English Dictionary.

In Play: Today's word doesn't always refer to bad guys: "Is it still true that soccer is a gentleman's game played by ruffians and rugby is a ruffian's game played by gentlemen?" That's because ruffians are less menacing than scoundrels: "Fear always attracts bullies and ruffians."

Word History: Today's Good Word was borrowed from French ruffian "pimp, lecher, bawd", which French had borrowed from Italian ruffiano "pimp, flatterer". Italian apparently borrowed its word from Old High German hruf "scab, crust", or some adjective meaning "scabby". If so hruf came to Germanic ancestors from PIE kreup- "scab", source also of Russian krupnyi "large, coarse", Lithuanian kraupus "dreadful, terrible", and Latvian kŕaũpa "scab" and karpa "wart". Alternatively, it might have arisen from a misspelling of rough (it certainly was influenced by it). Rough comes from the same source as German rau(h) "rough" and Dutch ruig "rough". (Now let's thank an unruffianish newcomer, April Cooksey, for suggesting we examine today's historically mysterious Good Word.)

Dr. Goodword,

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