Webster says a synonym for ragamuffin is tatterdemalion, a few other dictionary sources make mention; ragabash, brollaghan, gangrel, and vagabond. Shortened to ragga, the term has even made its way into the music world as the name for fans and the style of clothes they wear to dance halls that play a combination of hip hop and R&B.
Ragamuffin by today's usage has become a term of affection says The Word Detective:
- .....a rambunctious, scruffy child, probably a boy, probably quite dirty, who reduces his clothes to tatters and his parents to dismay on a daily basis. The word carries none of the desperate implications of "urchin," an abandoned child of the streets. All today's "ragamuffin" really needs is a bath.
A ragamuffin was a term used to describe a person in dirty clothes; part of the word obviously comes from the word rag. Muffin is thought to have been derived from mitten (Middle Dutch) since there is no evidence of the term muffin in common usage until the seventeenth century.
During the fourteenth century, it was spelled ragamoffyn as the name of a demon in Piers Plowman, a satire and allegory written during the fourteenth-century some attribute it to William Langland. Written in 1393 it's considered one of the best poems from medieval times about a group of characters named for moral abstractions such as Truth, Wisdom and Will. No one can be sure where Langalnd got the name ragamuffin but some experts think it may be a combination of ragged and ffyn as a distortion of fiend. Some researchers have determined the word goes back even further to 1344 to a woman named Isabella Ragamuffin even then it still carried the same connotations of being dirty and unkept. In 1554 Annibale Caro (1507 - 1566) wrote a collection of comedic prose based on several real people of Rome called The Ragamuffins (Gli straccioni). By the end of the sixteenth century ragamuffin was still being used to refer to being dirty and unkept but in particular now as a reference to a boy. Two centuries later all of the demonic associations were dropped when Charles Dickens created his own idea of what a ragamuffin was when he used it for the character in a novel by the same name called Barnaby Rudge. Inspired by Sir Walter Scott's The Waverley Novels and Ivanhoe it was Dicken's first attempt at historical literature (his second being A Tale of Two Cities). Rudge as the main character, is depicted as a simple but good hearted boy who unwittingly gets involved in the Gordon Riots when he falls into bad company, later arrested and sentenced to death. Sources:The Word Detective