Merriam-Webster’s Word of the Day for February 7, 2021 is:

ragamuffin • RAG-uh-muf-in  • noun

: a ragged often disreputable person; especially : a poorly clothed often dirty child


“[Bill Eddins] saw the photograph on sale years ago and ever after has recited the story of its purchase to visitors of his office. ‘It’s not me in the picture. We were too poor to afford a camera,’ the story goes. ‘But if we had had enough money to afford photography, that’s what I would have looked like.’ The ragamuffin, 5 or 6 years old, stared straight out of the frame at the viewer with a look that seemed to say, ‘It’s sure hot, mister, ain’t it.'” — Colin Warren-Hicks, The Pensacola (Florida) News Journal, 16 Dec. 2020

“The Amarilla Club was full of festive ragamuffins. Their frowsy heads protruded from every window, and from within came drunken shouts, the thumping of feet, and the twanging of harps.” — Joseph Conrad, Nostromo, 1904

Did you know?

If you’ve guessed that rag or ragged is related to ragamuffin, you may be correct, but the origins of the word are somewhat murky. In Middle English, ragamuffin functioned both as a surname and generically to denote a ragged (and sometimes stupid) person, and in the Middle English alliterative poem Piers Plowman William Langland used the word to serve as the name of a demon. The muffin part of ragamuffin may have its origin in either of two Anglo-Norman words for a devil or scoundrel, but that too is uncertain. No matter its muddied history—the word has continued to develop in modern times. It can also refer to a type of music with rap lyrics and a reggae beat.

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