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tat·​ter·​de·​ma·​lion ˌta-tər-di-ˈmāl-yən How to pronounce tatterdemalion (audio)
: a person dressed in ragged clothing : ragamuffin


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: ragged or disreputable in appearance
: being in a decayed state or condition : dilapidated

Did you know?

The exact origin of tatterdemalion is uncertain, but it's probably connected to either the noun tatter ("a torn scrap or shred") or the adjective tattered ("ragged" or "wearing ragged clothes"). We do know that tatterdemalion has been used in print since the 1600s. In its first documented use, it was a noun referring to a person in ragged clothing—the type of person we might also call a ragamuffin. (Ragamuffin, incidentally, predates tatterdemalion in this sense. Like tatterdemalion, it may have been formed by combining a known word, rag, with a fanciful ending.) Soon after the first appearance of tatterdemalion, it came to be used as an adjective to describe anything or anyone ragged or disreputable.

Examples of tatterdemalion in a Sentence

Adjective one of those tatterdemalion towns of the rust belt where the factories closed down decades ago
Recent Examples on the Web
Overhanging his outer compound wall were the only two remaining shade trees in the citadel, one a dying oak, the other a mulberry tree, and within the compound was a tatterdemalion garden, where a scrawny pomegranate tree drooped with heavy fruit. Rod Nordland, New York Times, 10 Oct. 2017

These examples are programmatically compiled from various online sources to illustrate current usage of the word 'tatterdemalion.' Any opinions expressed in the examples do not represent those of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback about these examples.

Word History



origin unknown

First Known Use


1608, in the meaning defined above


1614, in the meaning defined at sense 1

Time Traveler
The first known use of tatterdemalion was in 1608


Dictionary Entries Near tatterdemalion

Cite this Entry

“Tatterdemalion.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/tatterdemalion. Accessed 8 Dec. 2023.

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