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[ruhf-ee-uh n, ruhf-yuh n] /ˈrʌf i ən, ˈrʌf yən/
a tough, lawless person; roughneck; bully.
Also, ruffianly. tough; lawless; brutal.
Origin of ruffian
1525-35; < Middle French < Italian ruffiano, perhaps < Langobardic *hruf scurf + Italian -ano -an
1. brute, tough, knave, rogue, blackguard. Unabridged
Based on the Random House Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2015.
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Examples from the web for ruffian
  • ruffian makes a similar version and although it's no steal it's still only a third of the cost.
  • It reminds me of pogo dancing and getting slammed into by ruffian teenage boys on the dance floor.
  • The ruffian was cut to pieces upon the spot, but first killed another of the courtiers.
  • My first impulse was to throttle the old ruffian and make for the open air.
  • But their stock in trade has other ruffian advantages.
  • He has also been characterized as a whiskey runner, card player and ruffian.
  • The voice came from an unshaven ruffian holding court at two tables dragged together at the back of the canteen.
British Dictionary definitions for ruffian


a violent or lawless person; hoodlum or villain
Derived Forms
ruffianism, noun
ruffianly, 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
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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.).

Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper
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