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See also: Ruff



A 1724 mezzotint of Sir John Coke (1563–1644) wearing a ruff (sense 1) around his neck
Two male ruffs (Philomachus pugnax (syn. Calidris pugnax); sense 3.1) in their breeding plumage. During the mating season, male birds develop a distinctive ruff (sense 3.2) around their necks, and ear-tufts.

Etymology 1[edit]

Clipping of ruffle, or possibly from rough.


ruff (plural ruffs)

  1. A circular frill or ruffle on a garment, especially a starched, fluted frill at the neck in Elizabethan and Jacobean England (1560s–1620s).
  2. Anything formed with plaits or flutings like a frill.
  3. Senses relating to animals.
    1. Philomachus pugnax (syn. Calidris pugnax), a gregarious, medium-sized wading bird of Eurasia; specifically, a male of the species which develops a distinctive ruff of feathers and ear tufts during mating season (the female is called a reeve).
      • 1986, Desmond Nethersole-Thompson; Maimie Nethersole-Thompson, “New or Returning Waders”, in Waders: Their Breeding, Haunts and Watchers, Calton, Staffordshire: T. & A. D. Poyser, →ISBN; republished as Waders: Their Breeding, Haunts and Watchers (Poyser Monographs), London: T. & A. D. Poyser, 2010, →ISBN, page 323:
        A reeve shows her readiness to copulate by crouching in a particular residence. In a crowded lek she selects an individual ruff by turning towards him while still crouching. Some ruffs are thus chosen frequently while others are never selected. Ruff and reeve only copulate after she has crouched and has sometimes nibbled the feathers at the back of the ruff’s head.
      • 1991, Johan G. van Rhijn, “The Vigilant Mother”, in The Ruff: Individuality in a Gregarious Wading Bird, London: T. & A. D. Poyser, →ISBN; republished as The Ruff: Individuality in a Gregarious Wading Bird (Poyser Monographs), London: T. & A. D. Poyser, 2010, →ISBN, page 111:
        During late spring and early summer it becomes difficult to detect Ruffs in their breeding habitat. The males no longer visit the leks, and most have left the area. Some of the females may still be sitting on their eggs, invisible to casual passers-by.
    2. (ornithology) A set of lengthened or otherwise modified feathers on or around the neck of a bird.
      • 1794, William Bartram, chapter V, in Travels through North and South Carolina, Georgia, East and West Florida, the Cherokee Country, the Extensive Territories of the Muscogulges or Creek Confederacy, and the Country of the Chactaws. Containing an Account of the Soil and Natural Productions of those Regions; together with Observations on the Manners of the Indians. Embellished with Copper-plates, 2nd London edition, Philadelphia, Pa.: Printed by James and Johnson; London: Reprinted for J. Johnson, in St. Paul's Church-yard, OCLC 941618708, pages 148–149:
        I ſhall call this bird the painted vulture. [] the head and neck bare of feathers nearly down to the ſtomach, when the feathers begin to cover the ſkin, and ſoon become long and of a ſoft texture, forming a ruff or tippet, in which the bird by contracting his neck can hide that as well as his head: []
      • 2016, Paul A[ustin] Johnsgard, “Introduction to the North American Grouse”, in The North American Grouse: Their Biology and Behavior, Lincoln, Neb.: Zea Books, →ISBN, page 9, column 1:
        In the ruffed grouse, the special "ruff" feathers are borne on the lateral branches of the lower cervical feather tract.
    3. (zoology) A collar of lengthened or distinctively coloured fur on or around the neck of an animal.
      • 2005, Eskandar Firouz, “Mammals of Iran”, in The Complete Fauna of Iran, London; New York, N.Y.: I.B. Tauris, →ISBN, page 88:
        The Afghan urial, which is smaller than the Transcaspian urial, is found in the mountains near Iran's eastern frontier, and is the wild sheep of Afghanistan and western Pakistan. Its ruff is black sprinkled with white hairs and its bib is white.
      • 2017 April, Marie Brennan [pseudonym; Bryn Neuenschwander], chapter 10, in Within the Sanctuary of Wings: A Memoir by Lady Trent, New York, N.Y.: Tor Books, →ISBN, page 151:
        The creature coming toward me went instantly still. On the other side of the fire, one of them jerked upright and popped its ruff as wide as it would go. The other lunged to the side of the second and clamped one clawed hand around its muzzle.
  4. (engineering) A collar on a shaft or other piece to prevent endwise motion.
    • 1835 January, “A Method of Working the Slides and Valves of Steam Engines when Using Steam Expansively”, in The Repertory of Patent Inventions, and Other Discoveries & Improvements in Arts, Manufactures, and Agriculture; [...], volume III, number XIII (New Series), London: Published for the proprietor, by Simpkin, Marshall, and Co. Stationers' Hall Court, OCLC 191047082, page 63, column 1:
      The stroke of the cut-off valves is very short, and the ruffs on the parts, g, g, regulate its length.
    • 1846 February 25, “Specification of the Patent Granted to William Robertson, Machine-maker, of Gateside, in the Parish of Neilston, Renfrewshire, for Certain Improvements in the Machinery for Spinning and Twisting Cotton, Silk, Wool, Flax, and Other Fibrous Substances.—Sealed Feb. 25, 1846”, in The Repertory of Patent Inventions, and Other Discoveries & Improvements in Arts, Manufactures, and Agriculture; [...], volume VIII, number 4 (Enlarged Series), London: Published for the proprietor, by Alexander Macintosh, Great New Street; and sold by Simpkin, Marshall, and Co., Stationers' Hall Court; J. Weale, High Holborn; and G. Hebert, Cheapside, published October 1846, OCLC 191047082, page 205:
      This plate has a slot in it lengthwise to admit of its being shifted a sixth part of the circumference of the ruff, [].
  5. (obsolete) An exhibition of haughtiness or pride.
  6. (obsolete) Tumultuous or wanton conduct or procedure.
    • 1549 March 15, Hugh Latimer, “The Second Sermon of Master Hugh Latimer, which He Preached before the King’s Majesty, within His Grace’s Palace at Westminster, the Fifteenth Day of March, 1549”, in George Elwes Corrie, editor, The Works of Hugh Latimer, sometime Bishop of Worcester, Martyr, 1555. Edited for the Parker Society, by the Rev. George Elwes Corrie, B.D. [...], volume I, Cambridge: Printed at the University Press, published 1844, OCLC 796947594, pages 108–109:
      Thou must not pill and poll thy tenant, that thou mayest have, as they say, Unde, and that thy never enough, to ruffle it out in a riotous ruff, and a prodigal, dissolute, and licentious living.


ruff (third-person singular simple present ruffs, present participle ruffing, simple past and past participle ruffed)

  1. (transitive) To shape (fabric, etc.) into a ruff; to adorn (a garment, etc.) with a ruff.
    • 1810 December 6, H. R., “Venus Preserved; or, The Plot Discovered”, in The Monthly Repertory of English Literature, Arts, Sciences, etc., volume XII, number XLVIII, Paris: Printed by Belin, rue des Mathurins-St.-Jacques, Hôtel Cluny; for Galignani, (late Parsons, Galignani, and Co.) bookseller, rue Vivienne, No. 17, published March 1811, OCLC 472474509, page 490:
      The ladies have been carped at, and their dress; / You wanted them ruffed up like good Queen Bess; []
  2. (transitive, falconry) Of a falcon, hawk, etc.: to hit (the prey) without fixing or grabbing hold of it.
    • 1888, Good Words, volume 29, London: Alexander Strahan and Co., OCLC 1009003628, page 616:
      Instantly the keen-eyed hawk "stooped," or descended, with a rushing swoop, and struck one of the birds with her claws, but without killing it, which is called "rifling," or "ruffing" it.
  3. (rare, transitive) To ruffle; to disorder.
    • 1590, Edmund Spenser, The Faerie Qveene. [], London: [] [John Wolfe] for VVilliam Ponsonbie, OCLC 960102938, book III, canto II, stanza 27, page 418:
      Thenceforth the fether in her lofty creſt, / Ruffed of loue, gan lowly to auaile, / And her prowd portaunce, and her princely geſt, / VVith which ſhe earſt tryumphed, now did quaile: []
    • 1818 December 15, “To Morris Birkbeck, Esq. of English Prairie, Illinois Territory. Letter II.”, in Cobbett’s Weekly Political Register, volume 34, number 21, London: Printed by W. Molineux, 5, Bream's Buildings, Chancery Lane, for T[homas] Dolby, 34, Wardour-Street, Soho, published 13 February 1819, OCLC 9526019, column 658:
      To return to the thatching: Straw is not so durable as one could wish; besides, in very high winds, it is liable, if not reeded, to be ruffed a good deal; and the reeding, which is almost like counting the straws one by one, is expensive.
    • 1896 May 9, Forest and Stream, volume 36, New York, N.Y.: Forest and Stream Pub. Co., OCLC 1569747, page 379, column 2:
      I left my canoe below the fish lay, casting upward, so if I could hook a fish from shore I could lead him down without danger of ruffing the pool.
  4. (obsolete, transitive) Of a bird: to ruffle its feathers.
  5. (obsolete, transitive) To boast, to brag.
  6. (obsolete, intransitive) To speak in a loud and domineering manner; to bluster, to swagger.
    • 1831, “the Ettrick Shepherd” [pseudonym; James Hogg], “The Noctes Sang”, in Songs, by the Ettrick Shepherd. Now First Collected, Edinburgh: William Blackwood; London: T[homas] Cadell, OCLC 3955560:
      [] Mr Gillies ruffed and screamed out so loud in approbation, that he fell from his chair, and brought an American gentleman down with him.

Etymology 2[edit]

The Eurasian ruff or ruffe (Gymnocephalus cernua or Gymnocephalus cernuus; sense 1)
The ruff or Australian herring (Arripis georgianus; sense 2)

Possibly from rough.


ruff (plural ruffs)

  1. Alternative spelling of ruffe: a small freshwater fish of the genus Gymnocephalus; specifically the Eurasian ruffe (Gymnocephalus cernua or Gymnocephalus cernuus) which has spiny fins; the pope.
  2. Arripis georgianus, a fish found in cool waters off the southern coast of Australia; the Australian herring or tommy ruff.
    • 2014, Alan Davidson, “Australasian ‘salmon’”, in Tom Jaine, editor, The Oxford Companion to Food, 3rd edition, Oxford: Oxford University Press, →ISBN, page 44:
      In the same genus there is another species which makes better eating. This is A[rripis] georgianus, popularly known as the ruff or tommy ruff (again, nothing to do with anything bearing that name in the Old World), but now officially called 'Australian herring' (another aberration). [...] The ruff, on the other hand, although a smaller fish, makes good eating; its flesh is tender and tasty.
  3. (obsolete) A bottom-dwelling carnivorous fish of the family Sparidae found in temperate and tropical waters; a porgy or sea bream.
    • [1677, Thomas Holyoke [i.e., Thomas Holyoake], “A Ruff, or Sea-bream”, in A Large Dictionary in Three Parts: I. The English before the Latin, Containing above Ten Thousand Words More Than any Dictionary yet Extant. II. The Latin before the English, [...] III. The Proper Names of Persons, Places, and Other Things Necessary to the Understanding of Historians and Poets. [...], London: Printed by W[illiam] Rawlins, for G[eorge] Sawbridge, W[illiam] Place, T[homas] Basset, T[homas] Dring, J[ohn] Leigh and J[ohn] Place, OCLC 863465780, column 1:
      A Ruff, or Sea-bream. Melanurus.]
  • (Australian herring (Arripis georgianus)): roughy

Etymology 3[edit]

From Old French roffle, rouffle (earlier romfle, ronfle), or from Italian ronfa (card game similar to whist); these words are possibly from Old French triomphe (a triumph, victory), Italian trionfo (triumph; trump card),[1] from Latin triumphus (hymn to Bacchus; celebration, triumph), ultimately from Ancient Greek θρῐ́ᾰμβος (thríambos, hymn to Dionysius, thriambus). The verb is derived from the noun. Doublet of trump.


ruff (third-person singular simple present ruffs, present participle ruffing, simple past and past participle ruffed) (card games)

  1. (transitive, intransitive) To play a trump card to a trick when unable to follow suit (that is, when unable to play a card of the same suit as the previous or leading card). [late 16th c.]
    • 2005, Mark Horton, “2004: Loser Takes Nothing”, in Ray Lee, editor, The Hands of Time: The Best 100 Bridge Deals Ever Played!, Toronto, Ont.: Master Point Press, →ISBN, page 181:
      Zia [Mahmood] ruffed the club return and then played the ace of hearts and a heart, leaving declarer with another spade loser for two down.
    • 2014, D. K. Acharya, Standard Methods of Contract Bridge Complete: A Methodical Study and Critical Analysis of Bidding, Play, Defence and Other Strategic Instruments including Illustration of about 200 Deals, India: Partridge, Penguin Random House, →ISBN, page 181:
      The declarer may not have fear of losing control on trumps, because even after ruffing in one hand, the other hand will have sufficient length to draw the trumps. A 4-4 fit of trumps is considered to be the best and most convenient for the declarer. [] He can easily make 5 or 6 or even 7 tricks in trumps by way of ruffing once, twice or thrice in one hand.
  2. (transitive) Especially in the form ruff out: to defeat (a card, etc.) by ruffing, thus establishing the master card in the suit led.
    • 1999, Zia Mahmood; David Burn, “The Shriek”, in Ray Lee, editor, Around the World in 80 Hands, Toronto, Ont.: Master Point Press, →ISBN, page 15:
      Then I played on diamonds, to ruff out the suit – but East had four diamonds and West none, so I had annoyingly to lose a trick to East's ♣K in the end.
    • 2016, Ken Casey, “Introduction: Focus Your Attention on Ruffing Losers”, in Playing Beginning Bridge, [Bloomington, Ind.]: Xlibris, →ISBN:
      It never ceases to amaze me how many times people get in trouble by failing to first ruff out their sure losers.
Derived terms[edit]


ruff (plural ruffs) (card games)

  1. An instance of ruffing, or an opportunity to ruff, when unable to follow suit. [late 16th c.]
    • 2008, Phillip Alder, “The Just-So Story of a Justified Ruff-and-Sluff”, in The New York Times[1]:
      Take, for example, the axiom "Never give declarer a ruff-and-sluff."
  2. (obsolete) A game similar to whist and its predecessor. [late 16th c.]

Etymology 4[edit]



ruff (plural ruffs)

  1. (music, often military) A low, vibrating beat of a drum, quieter than a roll; a ruffle.
    • 2003, Rob Lewis, “3 Camps: Rudimental Drum Solo”, in Crosstraining: A Method for Applying Rhythms and Techniques to Drum Set, Hand Percussion and Mallet Instruments, Pacific, Mo.: Mel Bay Productions, →ISBN, part 6 (Rudiments and Rudimental Solos), page 71:
      I also used quite a few of the flat-fingered kind of ruff (as used before on the doumbek in the baladi section) to embellish some notes.


ruff (third-person singular simple present ruffs, present participle ruffing, simple past and past participle ruffed) (music, often military)

  1. (transitive) To beat a ruff or ruffle, as on a drum.
    • 1823 February, Nalla, “Corporal Colville”, in The London Magazine, volume VII, London: Printed for Taylor and Hessey, 93, Fleet Street, and 13, Waterloo Place, OCLC 977280548, page 136, column 1:
      [A] wooden leg and an empty coat sleeve, and fourteen poor pennies a-day, are all that I have got by allowing myself to be seduced by the cursed din of a Scotchman's bagpipe. I was once a good yeoman, in Kent, and in an evil hour went to the fair at Maidstone. The drum ruffed, and the pipe screamed in the market-place, and away I went to see what was to happen. [] I fairly forgot myself, and scarcely ever knew where I was or what I was doing, till I found myself on board a ship, and saw the olive hills and vineyards of Spain, []
  2. (intransitive) Of a drum, etc.: to have a ruff or ruffle beaten on it.
    • 1836, Tyrone Power, “Trenton Falls”, in Impressions of America, during the Years 1833, 1834, and 1835. [...] In Two Volumes, volume I, London: Richard Bentley, New Burlington Street, publisher in ordinary to His Majesty, OCLC 1003943032, page 384:
      If anything could have kept me awake, this cracked drum would; and, in truth, I had my fears, when, on entering my room, I heard my hero ruffing it away immediately in front of the window; but they were groundless apprehensions, though his efforts were varied and unceasing, for I undressed to the tune of the "Grenadiers' March," stepped into bed to the "Reveille," and dropped fast asleep to the first part of "Yankee Doodle!"



  1. The bark of a dog; arf, woof.
    • 2014, Suzan Kayaalp, “The Visitor”, in The Adventures of Lucky the Duck, New York, N.Y.: Page Publishing, →ISBN:
      "Ruff, ruff!" Around the corner, a little light brown, short-haired dog came running. On seeing the little brown terrier, Annie and Marie looked at one another. Letting out a moan, Annie said, "Oh no, it's JB! I wish Joyce would take him to dog school and have him taught some manners."

Etymology 5[edit]


ruff (comparative ruffer, superlative ruffest)

  1. (colloquial) Alternative spelling of rough.


  • ruff at OneLook Dictionary Search
  1. ^ Compare “ruff”, in Lexico,; Oxford University Press, 2019–2022.

Further reading[edit]