Antedating of _Rag_ 'A Type of Musical Composition"

Fred Shapiro fred.shapiro at YALE.EDU
Fri Mar 30 18:16:10 UTC 2007

On Thu, 29 Mar 2007, Benjamin Zimmer wrote:

> On 3/29/07, Fred Shapiro <fred.shapiro at> wrote:
>> rag (OED, n.5 2., 1897)
>> 1894 _Leavenworth Herald_ 8 Dec. in Lynn Abbott & Doug Seroff _Out of
>> Sight_ (2002) 448  Kansas City girls can't play anything on pianos except
>> "rags," and the wordst king of "rags" at that.
> Interesting. I'm not entirely convinced that this is exactly OED n5
> sense 2, since we don't know whether the writer would call an
> individual composition a "rag" (let alone whether these tunes have
> "ragtime" syncopation). But even if "rags" is being used here as a
> collective plural (roughly equivalent to "junk"), it could still point
> to a transitional usage on the way to the ragtime sense of "rag".

Abbott and Seroff write that "This is the earliest-known printed reference
to the word 'rags' to indicate a particular type of music. 'The Bully'
[this song is referred to in the 1894 passage quoted above] ... has been
popular acknowledged as a seminal ragtime song."

Fred Shapiro

Fred R. Shapiro                             Editor
Associate Librarian for Collections and     YALE BOOK OF QUOTATIONS
   Access and Lecturer in Legal Research     Yale University Press
Yale Law School                             ISBN 0300107986
e-mail: fred.shapiro at     

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