phrases, sayings, idioms and expressions at

Riff, riffle

Posted by ESC on February 06, 2002

In Reply to: Riffs, riff-raff - an idle segue posted by Word Camel on February 05, 2002

: : I thought I'd just posted this... but it's early and maybe I didn't... so here goes again.

: : Speaking of Led Zeppelin , what's the origin of "riff" as in a guitar riff? Although I am sure it's a fairly modern term, does it have any connection with "riff-raff"... and since I'm on this train of thought, what's the origin of "riff-raff" too? I'm more than certain that neither has the slightest to do with any indigenous tribes within Morocco.

: From The American Heritage Dictionary (sadly the only dictionary I have):

: riff: music. A short rhythmic phrase repeated constantly. [Probably shortend variant of REFRAIN]

: Also from the same dictionary - a few lines down;

: riff-raff 1. Worthless or disreputable persons 2. Rubbish; trash [Middle English riffe, raffe, rif and raf, one and all, from the Old French rif et raf: rifler to file + raffe, a sweeping. from Middle High German raffen, to snatch.]

: Oh for italics and bold ...

: fondly,

: Camel

RIFF - noun. "1935 (but according to jazzmen, current since about 1917), recurring melodic phrase in jazz, of uncertain origin; perhaps a shortened form of 'riffle,' n. - v. 1955, from the noun."
RIFFLE - verb. "1754, to form a stretch of choppy water; perhaps variant of 'ruffle,' make rough."

From the "Barnhart Concise Dictionary of Etymology" by Robert K. Barnhart (HarperCollins Publishers, New York, 1995).

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