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Origin of scrub

First recorded in 1300–50; of uncertain origin; Middle English verb scrobben, shrubben, borrowed from or related to Middle Dutch, Middle Low German schrobben “to scrub, scrape”


scrub·ba·ble, adjectivenon·scrub·ba·ble, adjective

Other definitions for scrub (2 of 2)

[ skruhb ]
/ skrʌb /


Origin of scrub

First recorded in 1350–1400; Middle English shrub(be), shrob(be), Old English scrybb; see shrub1
Dictionary.com Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2022


What else does scrub mean?

Scrub is slang for someone who is just plain bad at something—a no-talent hack. This could be in sports, video games, or thanks to TLC’s hit song, relationships.

Where does scrub come from?

Scrub has been slang for an “insignificant or contemptible person” since the 1500s. Over the centuries, the term was used as a slur to denigrate prostitutes and even Black people for a time. In the late 1800s, scrub was being used by athletes to deride inferior opponents. The term derives from a form of shrub.

In the 1990s, R&B girl group, TLC, helped make scrub a household term seemingly every woman in the 2000s used to describe broke guys. On the chorus of their 1999 track “No Scrubs,” TLC bops: No, I don’t want no scrubs / A scrub is a guy that can’t get no love from me / Hangin’ out the passenger side of his best friend’s ride / Trying to holla at me.”

Scrub spread to video game culture in the 2010s, seeing heavy use on Steam, GameFAQs, and Reddit. Early on, it was especially used in fighting game communities for a poor or new player, (noob) but it since has expanded into other genres.

How is scrub used in real life?

Scrub is a general insult for someone who is bad at something. It can be applied in a range of contexts, from sports to video games to dating. Regarding the latter, a scrub usually refers to a man, though women aren’t exempt from the “lowlife” insult.

More examples of scrub:

“[Tristan] Thompson has never been an elite player, but ever since he started dated Khloe, his performances have really gone downhill. He’s not the great offensive rebounder he once was, and is looking more and more like an overpaid scrub.”
—Nemanja Vukasinovic, Fadeaway World, August 2018


This content is not meant to be a formal definition of this term. Rather, it is an informal summary that seeks to provide supplemental information and context important to know or keep in mind about the term’s history, meaning, and usage.

How to use scrub in a sentence

British Dictionary definitions for scrub (1 of 2)

/ (skrʌb) /

verb scrubs, scrubbing or scrubbed
the act of or an instance of scrubbing
See also scrub round

Word Origin for scrub

C14: from Middle Low German schrubben, or Middle Dutch schrobben

British Dictionary definitions for scrub (2 of 2)

/ (skrʌb) /

small, stunted, or inferior
sport, US and 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 for scrub

C16: variation of shrub 1
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