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or swob

[swob] /swɒb/
a large mop used on shipboard for cleaning decks, living quarters, etc.
a bit of sponge, cloth, cotton, or the like, sometimes fixed to a stick, for cleansing the mouth of a sick person or for applying medicaments, drying areas, etc.
the material collected with a swab as a specimen for microscopic study.
a brush or wad of absorbent material for cleaning the bore of a firearm.
Slang. a sailor; swabby.
Slang. a clumsy fellow.
verb (used with object), swabbed, swabbing.
to clean with or as if with a swab:
to swab the decks.
to take up or apply, as moisture, with or as if with a swab:
to swab soapy water from the decks.
to pass over a surface:
to swab a mop over the decks.
Origin of swab
First recorded in 1645-55; back formation from swabber
Related forms
unswabbed, adjective


2. Unabridged
Based on the Random House Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2018.
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Examples from the Web for swab
Contemporary Examples
Historical Examples
  • “Here, you, get a swab and mop that up,” I commanded in my harshest manner.

  • Then clear out on deck and swab the curry off your face, you beast!

  • How could I permit that swab to mock me and abuse my father as a thief?

    Foma Gordyeff Maxim Gorky
  • Ill teach you how to sail a schooner and how to go about barefoot and swab decks.

    The Rough Road

    William John Locke
  • A line bent to the eye of a swab for dipping it overboard in washing it.

    The Sailor's Word-Book William Henry Smyth
  • Lower down that foresail, you swab, lower down that foresail!

    Devon Boys George Manville Fenn
  • Had not he possessed that, he would not have been at the head of the firm of Crank, Trunnion & swab.

    The Two Supercargoes W.H.G. Kingston
  • No, it was the swab,” said Harry, “but we lost our net and all the gear last night.

    The Young Trawler R.M. Ballantyne
  • I understand: you did not perceive before that I had shipped the swab.

    Peter Simple Frederick Marryat
British Dictionary definitions for swab


  1. a small piece of cotton, gauze, etc, for use in applying medication, cleansing a wound, or obtaining a specimen of a secretion, etc
  2. the specimen so obtained
a mop for cleaning floors, decks, etc
a brush used to clean a firearm's bore
(slang) an uncouth or worthless fellow
verb swabs, swabbing, swabbed
(transitive) to clean or medicate with or as if with a swab
(transitive) foll by up. to take up with a swab
Word Origin
C16: probably from Middle Dutch swabbe mop; related to Norwegian svabba to splash, Dutch zwabberen to mop, German schwappen to slop over
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 swab

1650s, "mop made of rope or yarn," from swabber (c.1600) "mop for cleaning a ship's deck," from Dutch zwabber, akin to West Frisian swabber "mop," from Proto-Germanic *swab-, perhaps of imitative origin. Non-nautical meaning "anything used for mopping up" is from 1787. Slang meaning "a sailor" first attested 1798, from swabber "member of a ship's crew assigned to swab decks" (1590s), which by 1609 was being used in a broader sense of "one who behaves like a low-ranking sailor."


1719, possibly from swab (n.). Related: Swabbed; swabbing.

Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper
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swab in Medicine

swab (swŏb)

  1. A small piece of absorbent material attached to the end of a stick or wire and used for cleansing or applying medicine.

  2. A specimen of mucus or other material removed with a swab.

The American Heritage® Stedman's Medical Dictionary
Copyright © 2002, 2001, 1995 by Houghton Mifflin Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Company.
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Slang definitions & phrases for swab



A sailor, esp a Navy seaman: better fitting dress uniforms for the hard-to-fit doughboy or swabbie

[1798+; probably fr the characteristic activity of using swabs for cleaning the decks and other features of a ship]

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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