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  1. the activity or occupation of fishing for crabs.
  2. a finishing process for reducing shrinkage and creasing of woolens and worsteds by stretching the fabric on a rotating cylinder and immersing in hot or, sometimes, cold water.
  3. Aeronautics. the maneuver of heading partly into the wind to compensate for drift.

Origin of crabbing

First recorded in 1870–75; crab1 + -ing1


  1. any decapod crustacean of the suborder Brachyura, having the eyes on short stalks and a short, broad, more or less flattened body, the abdomen being small and folded under the thorax.
  2. any of various other crustaceans, as the hermit crab, or other animals, as the horseshoe crab, resembling the true crabs.
  3. (initial capital letter) Astronomy, Astrology. the zodiacal constellation or sign Cancer.
  4. (initial capital letter) Astronomy. the Crab Nebula.
  5. any of various mechanical contrivances for hoisting or pulling.
  6. Aeronautics. the maneuver of crabbing.
  7. Informal. the crab louse.See under louse(def 1).
  8. crabs,
    1. (used with a singular verb)a losing throw, as two aces, in the game of hazard.
    2. pediculosis.
verb (used without object), crabbed, crab·bing.
  1. to catch or attempt to catch crabs.
  2. to move sideways, diagonally, or obliquely, especially with short, abrupt bursts of speed; scuttle.
  3. Aeronautics. (of an aircraft) to head partly into the wind to compensate for drift.
  4. Nautical. to drift or advance with some movement sideways, especially when under tow.
verb (used with object), crabbed, crab·bing.
  1. to move (a vehicle or object) sideways, diagonally, or obliquely, especially with short, abrupt movements.
  2. Aeronautics. to head (an aircraft) partly into the wind to compensate for drift.
  1. catch a crab, to make a faulty stroke in rowing, so that the oar strikes the water forcibly on the backstroke.

Origin of crab1

before 1000; Middle English crabbe, Old English crabba; cognate with Dutch krab, Old Norse krabbi; akin to German Krebs
Related formscrab·like, adjective


  1. Informal. an ill-tempered or grouchy person.
verb (used without object), crabbed, crab·bing.
  1. Informal. to find fault; complain.
  2. (of hawks) to claw each other.
verb (used with object), crabbed, crab·bing.
  1. Informal. to find fault with.
  2. to make ill-tempered or grouchy; embitter.
  3. (of a hawk) to claw (another hawk).
  4. Slang. to spoil.

Origin of crab3

1350–1400; Middle English; back formation from crabbed
Related formscrab·ber, noun
Dictionary.com Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2018

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British Dictionary definitions for crabbing


  1. the Crab the constellation Cancer, the fourth sign of the zodiac


  1. any chiefly marine decapod crustacean of the genus Cancer and related genera (section Brachyura), having a broad flattened carapace covering the cephalothorax, beneath which is folded the abdomen. The first pair of limbs are modified as pincersSee also fiddler crab, soft-shell crab, pea crab, oyster crab Related adjective: cancroid
  2. any of various similar or related arthropods, such as the hermit crab and horseshoe crab
  3. short for crab louse
  4. a manoeuvre in which an aircraft flies slightly into the crosswind to compensate for drift
  5. a mechanical lifting device, esp the travelling hoist of a gantry crane
  6. wrestling See Boston crab
  7. catch a crab rowing to make a stroke in which the oar either misses the water or digs too deeply, causing the rower to fall backwards
verb crabs, crabbing or crabbed
  1. (intr) to hunt or catch crabs
  2. (tr) to fly (an aircraft) slightly into a crosswind to compensate for drift
  3. (intr) nautical to move forwards with a slight sideways motion, as to overcome an offsetting current
  4. (intr) to move sideways
See also crabs

Word Origin

Old English crabba; related to Old Norse krabbi, Old High German krebiz crab, Dutch krabben to scratch


verb crabs, crabbing or crabbed
  1. (intr) to find fault; grumble
  2. (tr) mainly US to spoil (esp in the phrase crab someone's act)
  1. an irritable person
  2. draw the crabs Australian to attract unwelcome attention

Word Origin

C16: probably back formation from crabbed


  1. short for crab apple

Word Origin

C15: perhaps of Scandinavian origin; compare Swedish skrabbe crab apple
Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 2012 Digital Edition © William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd. 1979, 1986 © HarperCollins Publishers 1998, 2000, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009, 2012

Word Origin and History for crabbing



crustacean, Old English crabba, from a general Germanic root (cf. Dutch krab, Old High German krebiz, German Krabbe, Old Norse krabbi "crab"), related to Low German krabben, Dutch krabelen "to scratch, claw," from PIE root *gerbh- "to scratch, carve" (see carve). The constellation name is attested in English from c.1000; the Crab Nebula (1868), however, is in Taurus, and is so called for its shape. French crabe (13c.) is from Dutch.



"fruit of the wild apple tree," c.1300, crabbe, perhaps from Scandinavian scrab, of obscure origin (cf. Swedish krabbäpple). The combination of "bad-tempered, combative" and "sour" in the two nouns crab naturally yielded a verb meaning of "to vex, irritate" (c.1400), later "to complain irritably, find fault" (c.1500). The noun meaning "sour person" is from 1570s.

Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper