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[ruhf-ee-uh n, ruhf-yuh n] /ˈrʌf i ən, ˈrʌf yən/
a tough, lawless person; roughneck; bully.
Also, ruffianly. tough; lawless; brutal.
Origin of ruffian
1525-35; < Middle French < Italian ruffiano, perhaps < Langobardic *hruf scurf + Italian -ano -an
1. brute, tough, knave, rogue, blackguard. Unabridged
Based on the Random House Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2017.
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Examples from the Web for ruffian
Contemporary Examples
Historical Examples
  • The ruffian actually looked astonished, and for a moment did not reply, so bewildered did he seem.

    The Gold Hunter's Adventures William H. Thomes
  • If Rosario does not abhor that ruffian as I wish her to do, she shall abhor him.

    Dona Perfecta B. Perez Galdos
  • She made me feel as if I were a cad and a beast and a ruffian—as if I wanted k-kick-kicking.

  • He took the letters from his pocket, and handed them to the ruffian.

    The Camp in the Snow William Murray Graydon
  • Near the dire cell the dreadless wanderer oft Passes, as oft the ruffian shows his front.

  • He had not gone far, before he was despatched by a ruffian, sent on that errand.

  • I hope I shall never be deterred from detecting what I think a cheat, by the menaces of a ruffian.

    Life of Johnson James Boswell
  • When you last saw him, monsieur, you say he was struggling with the ruffian who wounded you?

    The Quadroon Mayne Reid
  • My intent was, first to cut down the ruffian, and then set free the limbs of the captive with the blood-stained blade.

    The War Trail Mayne Reid
British Dictionary definitions for ruffian


a violent or lawless person; hoodlum or villain
Derived Forms
ruffianism, noun
ruffianly, adjective
Word Origin
C16: from Old French rufien, from Italian ruffiano, perhaps related to Langobardic hruf scurf, scabbiness
Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 2012 Digital Edition
© William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd. 1979, 1986 © HarperCollins
Publishers 1998, 2000, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009, 2012
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Word Origin and History for ruffian

1530s, "a boisterous, brutal fellow, one ready to commit any crime," from Middle French rufian "a pimp" (15c.), from Italian ruffiano "a pander, pimp," of uncertain origin, perhaps from a Germanic source related to rough (adj.), but Dutch roffiaan, German Ruffian are said to be from French. English meaning might have been influenced by similarity of sound to rough. Related: Ruffianly.

The Romanic words (e.g. Medieval Latin ruffianus, Provençal rufian, Catalan rufia, Spanish rufian) preserve the sense of "protector or owner of whores." For sense evolution in English, cf. bully (n.).

Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper
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