an act or action of a person or thing that rubs.
an impression of an incised or sculptured surface made by laying paper over it and rubbing with heelball, graphite, or a similar substance until the image appears.

Compare brass-rubbing.

Origin of rubbing

Middle English word dating back to 1350–1400; see origin at rub, -ing1



verb (used with object), rubbed, rub·bing.

to subject the surface of (a thing or person) to pressure and friction, as in cleaning, smoothing, polishing, coating, massaging, or soothing: to rub a table top with wax polish; to rub the entire back area.
to move (something) back and forth or with a rotary motion, as against or along another surface: to rub the cloth over the glass pane.
to spread or apply (something) with pressure and friction over something else or a person: to rub lotion on her chapped hands.
to move (two things) with pressure and friction over or back and forth over each other (often followed by together): He rubbed his hands together.
to mark, polish, force, move, etc. (something) by pressure and friction (often followed by over, in, or into).
to remove by pressure and friction; erase (often followed by off or out).

verb (used without object), rubbed, rub·bing.

to exert pressure and friction on something.
to move with pressure against something.
to admit of being rubbed in a specified manner: Chalk rubs off easily.
Chiefly British. to proceed, continue in a course, or keep going with effort or difficulty (usually followed by on, along, or through): He manages to rub along.


an act or instance of rubbing: an alcohol rub.
something that annoys or irritates one's feelings, as a sharp criticism, a sarcastic remark, or the like: to resent rubs concerning one's character.
an annoying experience or circumstance.
an obstacle, impediment, or difficulty: We'd like to travel, but the rub is that we have no money.
a rough or abraded area caused by rubbing.

Verb Phrases

rub down,
  1. to smooth off, polish, or apply a coating to: to rub a chair down with sandpaper.
  2. to give a massage to.
rub off on, to become transferred or communicated to by example or association: Some of his good luck must have rubbed off on me.
rub out,
  1. to obliterate; erase.
  2. murder: They rubbed him out before he could get to the police.

Origin of rub

1300–50; 1860–65 for def 18b; Middle English rubben (v.); cognate with Frisian rubben, Danish rubbe, Swedish rubba
Related formsun·rubbed, adjectivewell-rubbed, adjective

Synonyms for rub Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2019

Examples from the Web for rubbing

Contemporary Examples of rubbing

Historical Examples of rubbing

  • I often saw him chuckling and rubbing his hands as if in approbation.

  • They made fire by the rubbing of sticks, shot poisoned arrows at game.

    The Leopard Woman

    Stewart Edward White

  • Her husband had been taking a nap in the sitting-room, and he came out, rubbing his eyes.

    Meadow Grass

    Alice Brown

  • He can defend himself pretty well, said Bell, rubbing his face.

    The Field of Ice

    Jules Verne

  • The Angel explained how they must be used for rubbing the blind father's eyes.

    My Double Life

    Sarah Bernhardt

British Dictionary definitions for rubbing



an impression taken of an incised or raised surface, such as a brass plate on a tomb, by laying paper over it and rubbing with wax, graphite, etc


verb rubs, rubbing or rubbed

to apply pressure and friction to (something) with a circular or backward and forward motion
to move (something) with pressure along, over, or against (a surface)
to chafe or fray
(tr) to bring into a certain condition by rubbingrub it clean
(tr) to spread with pressure, esp in order to cause to be absorbedhe rubbed ointment into his back
(tr) to mix (fat) into flour with the fingertips, as in making pastry
(foll by off, out, away, etc) to remove or be removed by rubbing
bowls (of a bowl) to be slowed or deflected by an uneven patch on the green
(tr often foll by together) to move against each other with pressure and friction (esp in the phrases rub one's hands, often a sign of glee, anticipation, or satisfaction, and rub noses, a greeting among Inuit people)
rub someone's nose in it informal to remind someone unkindly of his failing or error
rub up the wrong way to arouse anger (in); annoy
rub shoulders with or rub elbows with informal to mix with socially or associate with


the act of rubbing
the rub an obstacle or difficulty (esp in the phrase there's the rub)
something that hurts the feelings or annoys; rebuke
bowls an uneven patch in the green
any roughness or unevenness of surface
  1. golfan incident of accidental interference with the ball
  2. informala piece of good or bad luck

Word Origin for rub

C15: perhaps from Low German rubben, of obscure origin
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 rubbing



early 14c., transitive and intransitive, of uncertain origin, perhaps related to East Frisian rubben "to scratch, rub," and Low German rubbeling "rough, uneven," or similar words in Scandinavian (cf. Danish rubbe "to rub, scrub," Norwegian rubba), of uncertain origin. Related: Rubbed; rubbing.

To rub (someone) the wrong way is from 1853; probably the notion is of cats' fur. To rub noses in greeting as a sign of friendship (attested from 1822) formerly was common among Eskimos, Maoris, and some other Pacific Islanders. Rub out "obliterate" is from 1560s; underworld slang sense of "kill" is recorded from 1848, American English. Rub off "remove by rubbing" is from 1590s; meaning "have an influence" is recorded from 1959.



"act of rubbing," 1610s, from rub (v.); earlier "obstacle, inequality on ground" (1580s, common in 17c.) which is the figure in Hamlet's there's the rub (1602).

Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper

rubbing in Medicine




The application of friction and pressure.
Such a procedure applied to the body.
The American Heritage® Stedman's Medical Dictionary Copyright © 2002, 2001, 1995 by Houghton Mifflin Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Company.

Idioms and Phrases with rubbing


In addition to the idioms beginning with rub

  • rub down
  • rub elbows with
  • rub in
  • rub off on
  • rub one's hands
  • rub out
  • rub someone's nose in it
  • rub the wrong way
  • rub up on

also see:

  • the rub
The American Heritage® Idioms Dictionary Copyright © 2002, 2001, 1995 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company.