March 19th, 2004

WotD: Toerag

Today’s BritSpeak Slang Word of the Day is …

• noun
Brit. Informal a contemptible person.
ORIGIN originally denoting a rag wrapped round the foot as a sock or the wearer of such a rag, such as a vagrant.

Toerag (or Toe-rag) is a staple of British soap operas and gangster movies. It looks to have originated around the mid 1800’s. I have come across various different explanations of the origins of ‘Toerag’ but have not found a conclusive answer.

Theories include:

- Toe rag referred to a small time petty thieves, possibly travellers or gypsies. An allusion to their ragged clothes
- Noun. A contemptible or worthless person. From the cloth that was worn around one's feet as a sock, usually by vagrants.

- The toe rags may also refer to the cloth that sailors wrapped around their feet in the absence of socks or stockings

-There is also a school of thought that ‘Toerag’ came from ‘Taureg’, the nomadic people of the Arabian Desert. A throw back to colonial times when the white rulers thought of all other nationalities as ‘low lifes’ (could originate from the same time as ‘dirty Arab’ – common term of abuse in late Victorian Britain)

The term is also used in Scotland, spelt as ‘torag’, where it’s meaning is a bit stronger than ‘rascal’