noun Music.

rhythm in which the accompaniment is strict two-four time and the melody, with improvised embellishments, is in steady syncopation.
a style of American music having this rhythm, popular from about 1890 to 1915.

Origin of ragtime

1895–1900; probably rag(ged) + time
Related formsrag·time·y, adjective




a novel (1975) by E. L. Doctorow.
Dictionary.com Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2019

Examples from the Web for ragtime

Contemporary Examples of ragtime

Historical Examples of ragtime

  • While perhaps to generalise these delights, a trundled organ tossed a ragtime.

    The Paliser case

    Edgar Saltus

  • Ragtime floated to us, and presently a snatch from "The Sultan of Sulu."

    The Pirate of Panama

    William MacLeod Raine

  • The "piano specialty," which he originated, started the "ragtime" craze.

  • She made coffee in a fantastic percolator, and played Débussy and ragtime.

    The Trail of the Hawk

    Sinclair Lewis

  • Life here hammers in the blood with something of the insistence of ragtime.

    Nights in London

    Thomas Burke

British Dictionary definitions for ragtime



a style of jazz piano music, developed by Scott Joplin around 1900, having a two-four rhythm base and a syncopated melody

Word Origin for ragtime

C20: probably from ragged + time
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 ragtime

also rag-time, "syncopated, jazzy piano music," 1897, perhaps from rag "dance ball" (1895, American English dialect), or a shortening of ragged, in reference to the syncopated melody. Rag (n.) "ragtime dance tune" is from 1899.

If rag-time was called tempo di raga or rague-temps it might win honor more speedily. ... What the derivation of the word is[,] I have not the faintest idea. The negroes call their clog-dancing "ragging" and the dance a "rag." [Rupert Hughes, Boston "Musical Record," April 1900]

Conceive the futility of trying to reduce the intangible ragness to a strict system of misbegotten grace notes and untimely rests! In attempting to perfect, and simplify, art is destroying the unhampered spirit in which consists the whole beauty of rag-time music. The very essence of rag-time is that it shall lack all art, depending for the spirit to be infused more upon the performer than upon the composer himself. ["Yale Literary Magazine," June, 1899]

Her first "rag-time" was "The Bully," in which she made great sport by bringing a little coloured boy on the stage with her. Miss [May] Irwin says the way to learn to sing "rag-time" is to catch a negro and study him. [Lewis C. Strang, "Famous Actresses of the Day in America," Boston, 1899]
Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper

ragtime in Culture


A style of early jazz music written largely for the piano in the early twentieth century, characterized by jaunty rhythms and a whimsical mood.


Scott Joplin was a famous composer and performer of ragtime.
The New Dictionary of Cultural Literacy, Third Edition Copyright © 2005 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. All rights reserved.