Green’s Dictionary of Slang

rag n.1

1. with ref. to money [SE rag, a small amount, extended to a small amount and then any sum of money, thus sense 1b the minimally valuable farthing; the mid-19C introduction of banknotes adds secondary ref. to rag, a piece of cloth].

(a) [late 16C–1920s] money in general.

(b) [late 17C–early 19C] a farthing.

(c) [late 18C–1940s] usu. in pl., a banknote, paper money; also attrib.

(d) [mid-19C–1900s] (US Und.) in pl. counterfeit notes.

(e) [1940s–50s] (US Und.) a confidence game based on stocks and shares [ext. of sense 1c, banknote, to any monetary document].

2. as ext. versions of SE.

(a) [late 18C+] a flag.

(b) [19C+] an article of clothing, esp. a dress; also attrib.; thus raggery, clothes.

(c) [mid-19C–1910s] a theatre curtain.

(d) [mid-19C+] a pocket handkerchief.

(e) [1900s] a towel.

(f) [1910s] (US) a necktie.

(g) [1920s] a wig.

(h) [1950s] a baby’s nappy.

(i) [1960s+] a bandana.

(j) [1990s+] (US black) by metonymy from sense 2i, a gang member.

(k) [1990s+] (W.I./UK black) the semi-uniform clothes worn by a ragamuffin n.

(l) an convertible automobile’s soft top.

3. with ref. to speech [red rag n.] .

(a) [early 19C+] the tongue.

(b) [mid-19C+] abuse, teasing, talk; usu. as ragging.

4. [late 19C+] a newspaper or magazine [derog. ref. to its worthlessness, but note the use of rags in paper-making].

(a) [1940s] (US black) a magazine.

5. a sheet of paper; a form.


(a) [1930s–40s] (N.Z.) a low playing card in a suit.

7. with ref. to menstruation.

(a) [1920s+] a sanitary towel.

(b) [1990s+] a menstrual period.

8. as a derog. [abbr. wet rag under wet adj.1 , but ? ult. 16C–19C SE rag, a derog. description of a person, a ‘rag of a man’].

(a) [1960s] (N.Z.) a derog. term for a man.

(b) [1960s+] a fool.

9. [1980s+] (US) a second-rate, run-down car.

10. see rag house

11. see rag top

In compounds

rag baby (n.)

1. [late 19C–1910s] a dollar bill [SAmE rag baby, a war bond that had been issued in exchanragge for paper dollars at a time when the value of a paper dollar was 40 cents on the dollar in coin].

2. [late 19C] in attrib. use of sense 1.

3. see also SE compounds below.

rag box (n.)

see separate entry.

rag carrier (n.)

[late 18C–early 19C] an ensign, charged with carrying the flag.

rag chewer/chewing

see separate entries.

rag gorger (n.) (also rag gorgy) [Rom. gorgio, a (non-gypsy) man]

[early 19C] a wealthy man.

rag-out (n.)

[1970s] (US campus) a person who plays tricks; something unpleasant.

rag shop (n.) [shop n.1 (2)]

[early–mid-19C] a bank; thus rag-shop boss, a banker, rag-shop cove, a banker, a cashier.

rag splawdger (n.) (also rag splawger) [splodger n.2 ]

[mid–late 19C] a wealthy man.

rag trade (n.)

1. [mid-19C] the purchasing of counterfeit banknotes and the subsequent passing them off to innocent victims.

2. [mid-19C+] (also rag-alley, rag fair ) the garment industry; thus rag trader n., a person in the industry.

rag week (n.) [punning link to university rag weeks]

[1980s+] the menstrual period.

In phrases

flash one’s rags (v.)

[mid–late 19C] to show off one’s bankroll.

get one’s rag out (v.) [late 19C+]

1. (also get one’s rag up) to lose one’s temper.

2. to make someone else angry.

give rag (v.)

[1980s] (W.I.) to tease and joke aggressively and competitively.

have the rag on (v.)

1. [1940s+] of a woman, to be menstruating.

2. [1960s+] to act foolishly or eccentrically, to be annoyed.

hold one’s rag (v.)

[1990s+] to keep one’s temper.

lose one’s rag (v.) (also lose the rag)

[1950s+] to lose one’s temper.

off one’s rag (adj.)

[1990s+] (UK juv.) extremely angry, in a furious temper.

on the rag

1. [1930s+] menstruating; thus off the rag.

2. [1960s+] irritated, testy, bad-tempered; thus share the rag, to be hostile, to place blame on someone else.

ride the rag (v.)

see under ride v.

share the rag (v.)

[1970s+] (US gay) to be hostile, to pass responsibility onto another.

take the rag out (v.)

[1990s+] (US) in fig. use, to control one’s temper, to cheer up.

work the rag (v.) (also pull the rag)

(US Und.) to perform a stock swindle.

In exclamations

get off the rag!

[1970s] a dismissive excl.; the implication is that the addressee is lit. or fig. suffering from menstrual ill temper.

SE in slang uses

In compounds

rag-ass (n.) (also rag-arse) [rag-ass ]

[1980s+] a contemptible person, usu. impoverished or dishevelled; also as a derog. term of address.

rag-ass (adj.) [SE rag + -ass sfx (1)]

[1970s+] (US black) impoverished, contemptible.

rag baby (n.)

1. [20C+] (US black) a poor, ill-clothed woman, who is nonetheless attractive.

2. see also sl. compounds above.

rag bag (n.)

see separate entry.

rag-cat alley (n.)

[1900s] (US) a backstreet, the poor, run-down part of a city.

rag head (n.)

see separate entry.

rag house (n.) (also cot house) [the canvas sides or roofs that such buildings often had] (US)

1. [mid-19C–1920s] a cheap rooming house or ‘hotel’, esp. in a town based on an oil-drilling camp.

2. [late 19C–1930s] (also rag) a tent.

rag-mannered (adj.) [SE rag adj., a general derog. term]

[late 17C] aggressively uncouth, very badly mannered.

rag mob (n.) [mob n.2 (3)]

[1960s] (US Und.) a team of confidence men working ‘the rag’, a trick based on persuading the victim that they can profit from a fixed stock swindle.

rag stick (n.) [SE rag, a piece of cloth + stick]

[late 19C] an umbrella, esp. one that is not rolled up.

rag top (n.) (US)

1. [1940s-70s] a truck that has an open back, which, when loaded, is covered with a tarpaulin.

2. [1940s+] (also rag) the car or truck’s soft top.

3. [1950s+] a car with a ‘convertible’ soft top .

rag water (n.) [the effect of over-indulgence, ‘these liquors seldom failing to reduce those that drink them to rags’ (Grose, 1796)]

[late 17C–early 19C] spirits, esp. gin.

ragweed (n.) [weed n.1 (4)/SE ragweed, a form of hardy weed, of the genus Ambrosia]

1. [1960s+] (drugs) inferior quality marijuana.

2. [1980s+] heroin.

In phrases

rag on every bush (n.) [the custom of pious visitors of hanging a rag on the holly-bush growing near the side of a holy well; the image is of one who lacks fidelity to a single saint, but offers it to every one]

[mid-19C+] (Irish) a man who pursues a number of women at the same time; thus (cite 1906) the subjects of such attentions.

take the rag off the bush (v.) (also take the rag off all creation)

[mid-19C–1950s] (US) to surpass, to excel, to outdo.