from rags to riches

rag

1 [rag]
noun
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.
a.
something of very low value or in very poor condition.
b.
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.
Idioms
8.
chew the rag. chew ( def 11 ).
9.
from rags to riches, from extreme poverty to great wealth: He went from rags to riches in only three years.

Origin:
1275–1325; Middle English ragge < Scandinavian; compare Norwegian, Swedish ragg coarse hair < Old Norse rǫgg

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Based on the Random House Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2014.
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World English Dictionary
rag1 (ræɡ)
 
n
1.  a.  a small piece of cloth, such as one torn from a discarded garment, or such pieces of cloth collectively
 b.  (as modifier): a rag doll; a rag book; rag paper
2.  a fragmentary piece of any material; scrap; shred
3.  informal a newspaper or other journal, esp one considered as worthless, sensational, etc
4.  informal an item of clothing
5.  informal a handkerchief
6.  slang esp (Brit) nautical a flag or ensign
7.  lose one's rag to lose one's temper suddenly
 
[C14: probably back formation from ragged, from Old English raggig; related to Old Norse rögg tuft]

rag2 (ræɡ)
 
vb , rags, ragging, ragged
1.  to draw attention facetiously and persistently to the shortcomings or alleged shortcomings of (a person)
2.  (Brit) to play rough practical jokes on
 
n
3.  (Brit) a boisterous practical joke, esp one on a fellow student
4.  in British universities
 a.  a period, usually a week, in which various events are organized to raise money for charity, including a procession of decorated floats and tableaux
 b.  (as modifier): rag day
 
[C18: of uncertain origin]

rag3 (ræɡ)
 
n
1.  a piece of ragtime music
 
vb , rags, ragging, ragged
2.  (tr) to compose or perform in ragtime
 
[C20: shortened from ragtime]

rag4 (ræɡ)
 
n
a roofing slate that is rough on one side
 
[C13: of obscure origin]

Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 10th Edition
2009 © William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd. 1979, 1986 © HarperCollins
Publishers 1998, 2000, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009
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Etymonline
Word Origin & History

rag
c.1310, probably from O.N. rogg "shaggy tuft," earlier raggw-, or possibly from O.Dan. rag (see rug), or a back-formation from ragged (c.1300), which is from O.N. raggaðr "shaggy," via O.E. raggig "rag-like." It also may represent an unrecorded O.E. cognate of O.N. rogg.
As an insulting term for "newspaper, magazine" it dates from 1734; slang for "tampon, sanitary napkin" is attested from 1930s. Rags "personal clothing" is from 1855, Amer.Eng. Rags-to-riches "rise from poverty to wealth" is attested from 1947. Ragtop "convertible car" is from 1955. Raghead, insulting term for "South Asian or Middle Eastern person," first attested 1921.

rag
"scold," 1739, of unknown origin; perhaps related to Dan. dialectal rag "grudge."
Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper
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American Heritage
Idioms & Phrases

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.

The American Heritage® Dictionary of Idioms by Christine Ammer.
Copyright © 1997. Published by Houghton Mifflin.
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