In which are explored the matrices of text, textile, and exile through metaphor, networks, poetics, etymologies, etc., with an occasional subplot relating these elements to Iggy and the Stooges.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011


And now, a mini-love affair with the word "rag"–detritus, shamefulness, being "on the rag," being at the ragged edge, playing a syncopated rag(a) with a ragged rhythm.

Walter Benjamin writes that

the ragpicker is the most provocative figure of human misery. "Ragtag in a double sense: clothed in rags [I mistype "rages"] and occupied with rags. "Here we have a man [sic] whose job it is to pick up the day's rubbish in the capital. He collects and catalogues everything that the great city has cast off [I mistype "has to offer"], everything it has lost, and discarded, and broken. He goes through the archives of debauchery, and the jumbled array of refuse. He makes a selection, an intelligent choice; like a miser hoarding treasure, he collects the garbage that will become objects of utility or pleasure when refurbished by Industrial magic" (Du Vin et du Hashish, Oeuvres, vol. 1, pp. 249-250). As may be gathered [!!gathered!!] from this prose description of 1851, Baudelaire [and, we might postulate, Benjamin himself] recognizes himself in the figure of the ragman. The poem presents a further affinity with the poet, immediately noted as such: "a ragpicker stumbles past, wagging his head/ and bumping into walls with a poet's grace,/ pouring out his heartfelt schemes to one/ and all, including spies of the police." (Arcades Project, 345-50).

And Leo Spitzer ( traces the etymology of ragamuffin back through rigamarole to rag(e)man (the devil) and Rehoboam (?could be related to Rahab: name of a Biblical monster, from Heb. rahab, lit. "storming, against, impetuous," from rahabh "he stormed against" (cf. Arabic rahiba "he feared, was alarmed")), the overly harsh Israelite king, in Spitzer's brilliant, linguistic-detritus-gathering article "Ragamuffin, Ragman, Rigmarole, Rogue," Modern Language Notes, 62:2 (February 1947), pp. 85-93. Please note that this was published in 1947, right after the war that killed Walter Benjamin, right after the fall of the Reich that turned people like Benjamin and Spitzer into garbage, refuse, detritus. Both were writing against their own disposal, both were salvaging, scavenging every bit of human language/consciousness/activity, from the most noble to the most abject, and making strong connections between artistic practice and ragpicking.

rag (n.)
early 14c., 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 by 1896.

rag (v.)
"scold," 1739, of unknown origin; perhaps related to Dan. dialectal rag "grudge." Related: Ragged; ragging.

1820, from rag (n.) + bag. Fig. sense of "motley collection" is first recorded 1864.

1788, from Skt. raga-s "harmony, melody, mode in music," lit. "color, mood," related to rajyati "it is dyed."

mid-14c., from M.E. raggi "ragged" + fanciful ending (or else second element is M.Du. muffe "mitten"). Ragged was used of the devil from c.1300 in reference to "shaggy" appearance. Used by Langland as the name of a demon (cf. O.Fr. Ragamoffyn, name of a demon in a mystery play); sense of "dirty, disreputable boy" is from 1580s.

rage (n.)
c.1300, from O.Fr. raige (11c.), from M.L. rabia, from L. rabies "madness, rage, fury," related to rabere "be mad, rave." Related to rabies, of which this is the original sense. Similarly, Welsh (cynddaredd) and Breton (kounnar) words for "rage, fury" originally meant "hydrophobia" and are compounds based on the word for "dog" (Welsh ci, plural cwn; Breton ki). The verb is mid-13c., originally "to play, romp;" meaning "be furious" first recorded c.1300. Related: Raged; raging. The rage "fashion, vogue" dates from 1785.

"rough, shaggy," c.1300, pp. adj. from rag (n.), but earliest use is not directly from the main sense of that word and may reflect a broader, older meaning. Of clothes, early 14c.; of persons, late 14c.

1890, from ragged + -y (2). Raggedy Ann doll first attested 1918. Raggedy-ass by 1930.

insulting term for "South Asian or Middle Eastern person," 1921, from rag + head.

in Norse mythology, the last battle of the world, in which gods and men will be destroyed by monsters and darkness, 1770, from O.N. ragna, gen. of regin "the gods" + rök "destined end" or rökr "twilight."

1650s, from Fr. ragoût (mid-17c.), from M.Fr. ragoûter "awaken the appetite," from O.Fr. re- "back" + à "to" + goût "taste," from L. gustum (nom. gustus); see gusto.

1820, from rag (n.) + tag; originally in expression rag-tag and bobtail "the rabble" (tag-rag and bobtail is found in 1659), from bobtail "cur," 1619. Tag and rag was "very common in 16-17th c." [OED]

"syncopated, jazzy piano music," 1897 (in song title "Mississippi Rag" by W.H. Krell), from rag "dance ball (1895, Amer.Eng. dialect), possibly a shortening of ragged, in reference to the rhythmic imbalance.

"convertible car," 1955, from rag + top (1).

1790, from ragged + weed; so called from shape of the leaves. Applied to a different plant, ragwort, from 1650s. Ragwort itself is attested from mid-15c. (see wort).

No comments:

Post a Comment