A rag is a piece of cloth or fabric. But not the kind you might use to make something with. Rather a rag is what you might use to wash your car, dust your furniture or mop up a spill. You might also use the term to refer to an article of clothing, the kind of clothing which may well soon be cut up and used as a rag.
Turns out there are some much more imaginative, though somewhat crude, uses of the word. And what better place to turn for crude definitions of a word than the Urban Dictionary. Here’s a few::
— To rag someone is to have sex. Not exactly a loving term either
— The overwhelming feeling of regret, anxiety, guilt and shame often accompanying a severe hangover.
— Slang for the scrotum or balls.
(There’s more, but they’re offensive.)
A rag can be a man. Think a shortened version of ragamuffin, a person with a tired, shabby, disheveled appearance. A rag can be a bandana, or a do-rag, which is a tight-fitting cloth cap. And let’s not forget the rag doll.
Rag is also a type of behavior, and a massively annoying one at that. If you’re ragging someone you might be making fun of them, you might be admonishing them, or you may be tormenting or playing jokes on them.
Back when we used to read newspapers, some were dismissed as rags. The use of the term started in England in the 19th century and was used to refer to newspapers that were printed on very poor quality paper. Later the term was used as a dismissive statement about the quality of the content. You might call the New York Post a rag. Or what also comes to mind is the outrageously gossipy tabloids found on the supermarket checkout line,
Scanning several dictionaries I found a number of other definitions, most of which I knew little about:
- Any of various hard rocks
- A large roofing slate that is rough on one side
- An outburst of boisterous fun
- A week at British universities during which side-shows and processions of floats are organized to raise money for charities
- A ragged edge (in metalworking)
- A sail, or any piece of canvas.
- To break (ore) into lumps for sorting.
- To cut or dress roughly, as a grindstone.
But amidst the shabby clothes, the shabby people, the shabby behavior and the shabby journalism there is a much more upbeat rag, a musical one. I’m a big fan of Scott Joplin’s “rags,” upbeat musical compositions played on the piano that were popular during the Ragtime era in the U.S. Hence the name. One of his more popular rags was “The Entertainer” which was the theme song from the movie The Sting.
And for a musical conclusion to this long post about a little word, here’s a song that makes liberal use of that word: