Riffraff vs riprap

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Riffraff and riprap are two words that are close in pronunciation and spelling, and are sometimes confused. We will examine the differing definitions of riffraff and riprap, where these two words came from and some examples of their use in sentences.

Riffraff is a derogatory term for people the speaker considers socially inferior or undesirable. It’s a centuries-old term, having come to English from the French around 1500. In modern use, the word is usually humorous or ironic. When used sincerely as a term for homeless or poor people, it can make the writer sound stuck-up or insensitive. The word has been spelled many ways through its history in English, but riffraff and riff-raff have been standard for a century or more, and both of those forms now appear throughout the English-speaking world. The word riffraff is derived from the French phrase rif et raf, which means one and all.

Riprap is an expanse of stones, concrete or other hard substances that are installed as a breakwater or to prevent erosion around bridge pilings, building pilings, or on shores. Riprap is used in ocean bays or along lake or river shorelines. Generally, riprap is dumped into place in a haphazard fashion. The word riprap may be spelled with or without a hyphen, as in rip-rap. The word riprap originally was used to mean an area of rippling water.


Tonic Social recently won a licence to open on the ground floor and external terrace of the Hilton Hotel, with a warning from the board that it should not let in “riff-raff from other nightclubs” due to its late licence. (The Bournemouth Echo)

Veteran musician-turned activist, Charles Oputa, popularly known as Charlyboy yesterday described the present crop of leaders in the country as morons and riffraff. (The Daily Post Nigeria)

The precarious navigation through riprap is a challenge many boaters are facing this season, as changes in the river jeopardize safe river access at the Wilson boat ramp. (Jackson Hole News and Guide)

The bridge built in 1926 has lost sediment around its support columns and has been buttressed with almost 5,000 tons of heavy rip-rap to keep in place what sediment is left. (The Peninsula Daily News)