• synonyms


See more synonyms for rag on Thesaurus.com
  1. a worthless piece of cloth, especially one that is torn or worn.
  2. rags, ragged or tattered clothing: The tramp was dressed in rags.
  3. any article of apparel regarded deprecatingly or self-deprecatingly, especially a dress: It's just an old rag I had in the closet.
  4. a shred, scrap, or fragmentary bit of anything.
  5. Informal.
    1. something of very low value or in very poor condition.
    2. a newspaper or magazine regarded with contempt or distaste: Are you still subscribing to that rag?
  6. a person of shabby or exhausted appearance.
  7. a large roofing slate that has one edge untrimmed.
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  1. chew the rag. chew(def 11).
  2. from rags to riches, from extreme poverty to great wealth: He went from rags to riches in only three years.
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Origin of rag1

1275–1325; Middle English ragge < Scandinavian; compare Norwegian, Swedish ragg coarse hair < Old Norse rǫgg
Dictionary.com Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2018

British Dictionary definitions for from rags to riches


    1. a small piece of cloth, such as one torn from a discarded garment, or such pieces of cloth collectively
    2. (as modifier)a rag doll; a rag book; rag paper
  1. a fragmentary piece of any material; scrap; shred
  2. informal a newspaper or other journal, esp one considered as worthless, sensational, etc
  3. informal an item of clothing
  4. informal a handkerchief
  5. British slang esp nautical a flag or ensign
  6. lose one's rag to lose one's temper suddenly
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See also rags

Word Origin

C14: probably back formation from ragged, from Old English raggig; related to Old Norse rögg tuft


verb rags, ragging or ragged (tr)
  1. to draw attention facetiously and persistently to the shortcomings or alleged shortcomings of (a person)
  2. British to play rough practical jokes on
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  1. British a boisterous practical joke, esp one on a fellow student
  2. (in British universities)
    1. a period, usually a week, in which various events are organized to raise money for charity, including a procession of decorated floats and tableaux
    2. (as modifier)rag day
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Word Origin

C18: of uncertain origin


  1. a piece of ragtime music
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verb rags, ragging or ragged
  1. (tr) to compose or perform in ragtime
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Word Origin

C20: shortened from ragtime


  1. a roofing slate that is rough on one side
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Word Origin

C13: of obscure origin
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

Word Origin and History for from rags to riches



scrap of cloth, early 14c., probably from Old Norse rögg "shaggy tuft," earlier raggw-, or possibly from Old Danish rag (see rug), or a back-formation from ragged, It also may represent an unrecorded Old English cognate of Old Norse rögg. Watkins traces the Old Norse word through Proto-Germanic *rawwa-, from PIE root *reue- "to smash, knock down, tear up, uproot" (see rough (adj.)).

As an insulting term for "newspaper, magazine" it dates from 1734; slang for "tampon, sanitary napkin" is attested from 1930s (on the rag "menstruating" is from 1948). Rags "personal clothing" is from 1855 (singular), American English. Rags-to-riches "rise from poverty to wealth" is attested by 1896. Rag-picker is from 1860; rag-shop from 1829.

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"scold," 1739, of unknown origin; perhaps related to Danish dialectal rag "grudge." Related: Ragged; ragging. Cf. bullyrag, ballarag "intimidate" (1807).

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Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper

Idioms and Phrases with from rags to riches

from rags to riches

From being poor to being wealthy, especially through one's own efforts. For example, The invention catapulted the scientist from rags to riches. Horatio Alger (1834–1899) popularized this theme in some 130 best-selling novels, in which the hero, through hard work and thrift, pulled himself out of poverty to wealth and happiness.

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In addition to the idiom beginning with rag

  • rag doll

also see:

  • chew the fat (rag)
  • from rags to riches
  • glad rags
  • run ragged
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The American Heritage® Idioms Dictionary Copyright © 2002, 2001, 1995 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company.