We all know, don’t we, that riffraff is from
Middle English riffe raffe, from rif and raf, one and all, from Anglo-Norman rif et raf, rifle et rafle : Old French rifler, to rifle; see rifle2 + Old French raffler, to carry off (from raffle, act of seizing; see raffle1).
So, nothing whatsoever to do with the mountains of northern Morocco or their troublesome inhabitants. Here, however, in a verse chronicle of the events of January 1892, composed by theatre man Felipe Pérez y González and published in Blanco y negro on February 7 of that year, is an amusing coincidence of the two. It’s the only example of peninsular conversion of rif et raf I’ve ever seen, and the author’s spelling seems to suggest that he believes its origin to be North African:
Como enero es el mes de los estrechos,
Han venido los hechos
La atención de las gentes a llevar
Hacia el de Gibraltar,
Pues allá, al otro lado,
Los morazos del Rif se han sublevado
Armando “sarracinas” y jaleos,
Porque son los más brutos … y más feos.
Ya todas las naciones
Adoptaron prudentes precauciones,
Porque temen que ocurra algún desmán,
Y que como la gente del Sultán
No les zurre y les chafe,
Los del Rif van a hacer un rif-irrafe.
I found this via Ricardo de la Cierva’s biography of Franco, which, in line with the local administration’s loathing of all opinion other than its own, has been removed from all Barcelona’s public libraries. This is a great shame, because it’s still probably the most informative account around and includes trivia like the news–to an ignoramus like me–that Franco in an inspired fit of evil killed one cyclist and severely injured another while driving on 22/8/1935, and that the brilliant Catalan medievalist, Martí de Riquer, fought in the Civil War for God, Country and King as part of the only Catalan regiment in that conflict, Franco’s Tercio de Montserrat, whose hymn he also co-wrote. His campaign diary is, of course, absent from our public bookshelves, although, strangely, several copies of that of his fellow-requeté, Rosendo Doménech Puig, seem to have survived the purge.
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