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[skruhb] /skrʌb/
verb (used with object), scrubbed, scrubbing.
to rub hard with a brush, cloth, etc., or against a rough surface in washing.
to subject to friction; rub.
to remove (dirt, grime, etc.) from something by hard rubbing while washing.
Chemistry. to remove (impurities or undesirable components) from a gas by chemical means, as sulfur dioxide from smokestack gas or carbon dioxide from exhaled air in life-support packs.
to cancel or postpone (a space flight or part of a mission):
Ground control scrubbed the spacewalk.
Slang. to do away with; cancel:
Scrub your vacation plans—there's work to do!
verb (used without object), scrubbed, scrubbing.
to cleanse something by hard rubbing.
to cleanse one's hands and arms as a preparation to performing or assisting in surgery (often followed by up).
an act or instance of scrubbing.
a canceled or postponed space flight, launching, scheduled part of a space mission, etc.
something, as a cosmetic preparation, used for scrubbing.
Origin of scrub1
1300-50; Middle English scrobben (noun) < Middle Dutch schrobben
Related forms
scrubbable, adjective
nonscrubbable, adjective Unabridged
Based on the Random House Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2017.
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Examples from the Web for scrubbing
Contemporary Examples
Historical Examples
  • It was years since the grate had received such a polishing, or the floor such a scrubbing.

    For John's Sake Annie Frances Perram
  • Such a scrubbing had never been seen in that house since the place had been built!

    Nobody's Girl Hector Malot
  • Azuba was not, as usual, busy with her cooking or scrubbing.

    Cap'n Dan's Daughter Joseph C. Lincoln
  • Pop was putting away the dishes, and Jud was scrubbing out the sink.

    Way of the Lawless Max Brand
  • She looked at her hands and straightway she fell to scrubbing them with soap as she had never scrubbed them before.

  • Bill was scrubbing the porch, and a farmhand was gathering bottles from the grass into a box.

    K Mary Roberts Rinehart
British Dictionary definitions for scrubbing


verb scrubs, scrubbing, scrubbed
to rub (a surface) hard, with or as if with a brush, soap, and water, in order to clean it
to remove (dirt), esp by rubbing with a brush and water
(intransitive) foll by up. (of a surgeon) to wash the hands and arms thoroughly before operating
(transitive) to purify (a vapour or gas) by removing impurities
(transitive) (informal) to delete or cancel
(intransitive) (horse racing, slang) (of jockeys) to urge a horse forwards by moving the arms and whip rhythmically forwards and backwards alongside its neck
the act of or an instance of scrubbing
See also scrub round
Word Origin
C14: from Middle Low German schrubben, or Middle Dutch schrobben


  1. vegetation consisting of stunted trees, bushes, and other plants growing in an arid area
  2. (as modifier): scrub vegetation
an area of arid land covered with such vegetation
  1. an animal of inferior breeding or condition
  2. (as modifier): a scrub bull
a small or insignificant person
anything stunted or inferior
(sport, US & Canadian) a player not in the first team
(Austral, informal) the scrub, a remote place, esp one where contact with people can be avoided
small, stunted, or inferior
(sport, US & Canadian)
  1. (of a player) not in the first team
  2. (of a team) composed of such players
  3. (of a contest) between scratch or incomplete teams
Word Origin
C16: variation of shrub1
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
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Word Origin and History for scrubbing



"rub hard," early 15c., earlier shrubben (c.1300), perhaps from Middle Dutch or Middle Low German schrubben "to scrub," or from an unrecorded Old English cognate, or from a Scandinavian source (cf. Danish skrubbe "to scrub"), probably ultimately from the Proto-Germanic root of shrub, used as a cleaning tool (cf. the evolution of broom, brush (n.1)).

Meaning "to cancel" is attested from 1828 (popularized during World War II with reference to flights), probably from notion of "to rub out, erase" an entry on a listing. Related: Scrubbed; scrubbing.


late 14c., "low, stunted tree," variant of shrobbe (see shrub), perhaps influenced by a Scandinavian word (cf. Danish dialectal skrub "a stunted tree, brushwood"). Collective sense "brush, shrubs" is attested from 1805. As an adjective from 1710. Scrub oak recorded from 1766.

Transferred sense of "mean, insignificant fellow" is from 1580s; U.S. sports meaning "athlete not on the varsity team" is recorded from 1892, probably from this, but cf. scrub "hard-working servant, drudge" (1709), perhaps from influence of scrub (v.).

"act of scrubbing," 1620s, from scrub (v.). Meaning "thing that is used in scrubbing" is from 1680s.

Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper
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Slang definitions & phrases for scrubbing

scrub 1


To cancel or eliminate: They were forced to scrub the whole plan

[1828+; popularized by military use during World War II]

scrub 2


  1. A contemptible person; bum: Ed is a scrub (1589+)
  2. An athlete who is not on the first or varsity team; a lowly substitute (1892+)

[ultimately fr scrub, ''shrub, a low, stunted tree''; the quoted 1990s teenager use is an interesting survival or perhaps a revival based on the second sense]

The Dictionary of American Slang, Fourth Edition by Barbara Ann Kipfer, PhD. and Robert L. Chapman, Ph.D.
Copyright (C) 2007 by HarperCollins Publishers.
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