tatterdemalion /ta-tər-di-MAYL-yən/. noun & adjective. One garbed in ragged, tattered clothing or such clothing. Of disreputable or tattered appearance, decayed or dilapidated. From tattered plus, as the OED puts it, a “factitious element suggesting an ethnic or descriptive derivative.” Tattered comes from Old Norse tötrar and Old French tatereles (tatters). But perhaps also influenced by Tartar, an old term for a vagabond or beggar.
“Florry Talbot, a blond feeble goosefat whore in a tatterdemalion gown of mildewed strawberry, lolls spreadeagle in the sofacorner, her limp forearm pendent over the bolster, listening.” (James Joyce)
“…these lanky figures were standing upright or were seated, their faces framed by beards or unkempt hair. It was a tatterdemalion, bizarrely dressed crowd…” (Italo Calvino)
“Venomous weeds grew here, and tatterdemalion flowers, white, blue and rose; among crevices in the rust and tangled ancient iron a lizard would peep out drunkenly at the burning sun.” (William Styron)
“Most promising of these, to my mind, had been a small, tatterdemalion math constructed on a lookout tower originally put there to detect forest fires.” (Neal Stephenson)
“The occult knowledge of the Egyptians passed from Hermes Trismegistus to Moses, who took care not to pass it on to his band of tatterdemalions, their craws still stuffed with manna; to them he offered the Ten Commandments, which was as much as they could comprehend.” (Umberto Eco)
“…the company around the table grew a little closer together, their tatterdemalion garments rustling as a wind of consternation blew through them…” (Angela Carter)
“An election is the grand trial of strength, the decisive battle when the belligerents draw out their forces in martial array; when every leader, burning with warlike ardor, and encouraged by the shouts and acclamations of tatterdemalions, buffoons, dependents, parasites, toad-eaters, scrubs, vagrants, mumpers, ragamuffins, bravoes, and beggars in his rear; and puffed up by his bellows-blowing slangwhangers, waves gallantly the banners of faction, and presses forward to office and immortality!” (Washington Irving)
Select Synonyms: ragamuffin, foundling, guttersnipe, gamin, urchin, waif.