Ahhh…those long days of summer are great, aren't they? You rise with the Sun, play hard all day, and then don't hit the hay until after the Moon rises.
After you put away the bicycles and baseball bats, you can't wait to attack the kitchen, where ice-cold lemonade and fresh-baked cookies await. Before you can take your first bite or sip, however, your mother stops you in your tracks. "Where do you think you're going?" she asks. "You look like a ragamuffin!"
You detour to the bathroom to get cleaned up and, as you look in the mirror, you see that she's right. Your face is streaked with dirt. Your hair sticks up in every direction, doing its best to defy gravity. Your clothes are stained with sweat and grass and even feature a couple new rips and tears that weren't there when you started the day.
You realize you really do look like a ragamuffin. And the funny thing is: you didn't even know what that meant when she said it. But seeing yourself in the mirror, you suddenly have a clear picture of what a ragamuffin must be.
"Ragamuffin" is one of those funny words from times past that parents trot out from time to time to describe particular circumstances. Why? Sometimes certain words just fit the occasion, even if we don't use them that often. Plus, words can simply be fun to use, don't you think?
Do you ever use old, uncommon words just for fun? Give it a try sometime. Instead of saying "Good morning!" or "Hello," try "Greetings!" or "Salutations!" When you're getting ready to leave, replace "Goodbye" with a foreign alternative, such as "Arrivederci!" or "Mañana!"
As for the word "ragamuffin," it is usually used to describe a child who is dirty and unkempt with tattered or ragged clothing. 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 and play. If you work hard and play hard, wear the title of ragamuffin with pride…and have fun with language every chance you get!