• synonyms


[ruhf-ee-uhn, ruhf-yuhn]
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  1. a tough, lawless person; roughneck; bully.
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  1. Also ruf·fi·an·ly. tough; lawless; brutal.
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Origin of ruffian

1525–35; < Middle French < Italian ruffiano, perhaps < Langobardic *hruf scurf + Italian -ano -an


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Dictionary.com Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2018

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British Dictionary definitions for ruffian


  1. a violent or lawless person; hoodlum or villain
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Derived Formsruffianism, nounruffianly, 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

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.).

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Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper