adj., v.

WA raggid

(1) ‘ragged, shaggy’; (2) ‘hoar-frosted’ (Modern English ragged)


Most editions (and MED, OED, and see also Luttrell 1955: 210–11) interpret raged at Gaw 745 (‘Þe hasel and þe haʒþorne were harled al samen, / With roʒe raged mosse rayled aywhere’) as meaning 'ragged, shaggy' etc., which can be straightforwardly identified with ME ragged(e), PDE ragged, i.e. a derivation on ME rag(ge) 'rag'. Its stem is first attested as late OE raggig (glossing setosa 'bristly', see further SPS 407–8). The etymology of ME ragg- has given rise to argument: (a) Most authorities relate it to a group of Scandinavian words very similar in form and sense, viz. OIcel rǫgg ‘tuft, shagginess, strip of fur’ < VAN *ragg- and its derivatives as in OIcel raggaðr ‘provided with tufts, shaggy’ and Sw raggig ‘shaggy, rough’, which the Scandinavian etymological dictionaries connect with OIcel rýja ‘to pluck, strip’ < PGmc *rūjan-, and thus derive it on the same PIE root *reu- ‘to rip’ as Lat ruere ‘to rush, fall’ (etc.); this supposes a PGmc root *raww- (an unexplained development of the a-grade *rau-) for the n., hence giving ON /gg/ via sharpening. In that case, the English words must be derived from ON (with ME ragged(e) perhaps directly from the pp. adj. represented by OIcel raggaðr). However in the absence of WGmc cognates of ON ragg- without sharpening, one cannot be certain of this etymology; it is always possible that ON ragg- instead reflects a PGmc form *rag(g)-, and in that case OE raggig could be a native cognate rather than a loan from ON (see further Bj. 35 n.2 and Pons-Sanz 2011: 42–4 and SPS). (b) Alternatively an OE *ragge 'moss, lichen' has been posited to explain some Engish place-names (Ekwall 1936, followed by EPNE s.v. ragge). This *ragge could be interpreted as a secondary formation on OE ragu 'moss, lichen' (thus Ekwall, and see further Coates 1982: 212), which is usually related to OS raginna ‘bristles’, Du rag ‘spider’s web’ (and perh. WFris rēge, reage ‘spider’), supposing a PGmc *rag-, of obscure ulterior etymology (from which ON ragg- could also potentially be derived). On the other hand, proponents of the theory that late OE ragg-, ME rag(ge) derive from ON ragg-, as at (1a) above, explain the use of English rag- to refer to moss/lichen simply as a later sense development of the loan < ON (thus e.g. OED3, EPNE), and presumably understand the similarity to OE ragu as coincidental. (2) Wright (1906: 217, most notably followed by GDS (745n)) instead connects it with PDE (principally N/EM) dial rag 'hoarfrost' (see EDD). This rag- has been plausibly related to a set of formally similar Scandinavian words denoting (esp. frozen) precipitation, mist and/or frost; cp. Icel hragla ‘to snow, to rain a little, in a scattered way (in a light wind)’ (first attested in the 18c. (Mag.); < earlier *hragil-), Sw dial ragg ‘drizzle’, ragga ‘to drizzle’, Dan ræg ‘rimefrost, frost-mist’, and perh. Dan dial (Jutlandic) rag ‘small clouds’, supposing a PGmc *hrag- which also seems to be the source of OIcel hregg ‘storm and rain’, Icel hregg ‘snowfall, sleet or rain (with some wind)’ (< PGmc *hragja-) (for suggestions as to ulterior etymology, see de Vries, Mag., Torp-Falk 104; see also rak).

PGmc Ancestor

(1a) *raww-; (1b) *rag-; (2) *hrag-

Proposed ON Etymon (OIcel representative)

(1a) raggaðr 'provided with tufts, shaggy', rǫgg 'tuft, shagginess, strip of fur'
(ONP (1a) ONP raggaðr (adj.); rǫgg (sb.))

Other Scandinavian Reflexes

(1a) Icel raggaður, Norw ragget, raggad, OSw raggotter; Icel rögg, Norw ragg, ODan, OSw rag, Sw ragg; (2) Icel hragla, Sw dial ragg, ragga, Dan ræg, Dan dial (Jutlandic) rag

OE Cognate

(1a) cp. raggig 'shaggy, bristly, rough'; (1b) ragu (rægu) (n.) ‘moss, lichen’

Phonological and morphological markers

[Sharpening of ON /ggw/ < PGmc */ww/] (may not be applicable)

[absence of palatalization of */ɡ/] (possibly diagnostic) (may not be applicable)

Summary category



(1a) ME ragged(e) is attested earliest in surnames, from (1197) Feet Fines Rich.I in Pipe R.Soc.24 onwards. In literary texts MED cites it from ?c1225 Ancr.(Cleo C.6) and then not again before the 14c., when it is fairly widespread. The n. rag(ge) is cited by MED earliest from surnames (from (1222) Close R.Tower 1 onwards) and then in sense (3) ‘hard, rough stone’ (etc.) (earliest in the Lat (1278) Burs.R.Merton in Archaeol.J.2); the n. in the general sense ‘a scrap of cloth’ (etc.) is not found before the 14c. (earliest in c1325 Ich herdemen (Hrl 2253)), and has no evident dialectal bias. On OE raggig see SPS.  (1) (b) Besides (perh.) in place-names (see EPNE s.v. ragge), rag- is only attested with reference to lichens from one 18c. text; see OED3 s.v. rag n.2, sense (13).  (2) EDD cites rag ‘hoar-frost’ (etc.) from the N/EM (plus ‘?Dev’).

Occurrences in the Gersum Corpus

Gaw 745; WA 5133


MED ragged(e (adj.) , OED3 ragged (adj.1) , Dance raged; (1a) de Vries raggaðr; rǫgg, Mag. raggaðr; rögg, Bj-L. ragg, Kroonen *rawwō-, AEW raggig, Bj. 35n.2 (251), SPS 407–8, EPNE ragge; (1b) AEW ragu, EPNE ragu, rægu, de Vries/Toll rag; (2) EDD rag (sb.2 and v.2), Thorson rag, Mag. hragla