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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 ruffians
  • Because the ruffians don't know who you are or that you've booked a hotel room.
  • Their converts were no more than local ruffians who exploited foreign protection to ride roughshod over their countrymen.
  • There is no point in stating that these are an isolated case perpetrated by some ruffians because it is more than that.
  • It contained only forty-two cells which soon filled up with frontier ruffians.
  • The ruffians hesitated at this outbreak, and looked at one another for counsel.
  • His customers dropped off one by one, deterred by the threats and violence of these ruffians.
British Dictionary definitions for ruffians


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 ruffians



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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