Share this entry

riff-raff Line breaks: riff-raff
Pronunciation: /ˈrɪfraf/

Definition of riff-raff in English:


[mass noun]
Disreputable or undesirable people: I saw the sort of riff-raff that had been invited
More example sentences
  • The reason that we bought these seats is because we don't want to be bothered with the general riff-raff.
  • They let in all sorts of riff-raff here, don't they?
  • While I think programs and materials for the gifted are fine and good, I worry about meetings like this in which the dominant sentiment is that the only way to educate the gifted is to remove them from the company of mere mortal riff-raff.
rabble, scum, refuse, garbage, rubbish, trash, vermin, the lowest of the low, in the underclass, the dregs of society, good-for-nothings, undesirables
informal peasants, Z-list
British informal as common as muck


Late 15th century (as riff and raff): from Old French rif et raf 'one and all, every bit', of Germanic origin.

  • rifle from Middle English:

    The Old French rifler meant both ‘to plunder’ and to ‘to scratch’. The plunder sense developed via ‘search for valuables’ into ‘to search thoroughly’ (mid 17th century). The word was then re-borrowed from French in the ‘scratch’ sense for the making of grooves in the barrel of a gun (mid 17th century). These rifled guns then became known as rifles (mid 18th century). Riff-raff (Middle English), formerly written as riff and raff, is probably also from rifler combined with raffler ‘to carry off’. The sense ‘disreputable person’ would have developed in much the same way as vulgar and hoi poloi.

Definition of riff-raff in:

Share this entry


What do you find interesting about this word or phrase?

Comments that don't adhere to our Community Guidelines may be moderated or removed.

Get more from Oxford Dictionaries

Subscribe to remove adverts and access premium resources

Word of the day innocuous
Pronunciation: ɪˈnɒkjʊəs
not harmful or offensive