or swob



verb (used with object), swabbed, swab·bing.

Origin of swab

First recorded in 1645–55; back formation from swabber
Related formsun·swabbed, adjective


Dictionary.com Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2019

Related Words for swab

daub, mop, sponge, wash, scrub, wipe

Examples from the Web for swab

Contemporary Examples of swab

Historical Examples of swab

  • “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

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 or swabbed

(tr) to clean or medicate with or as if with a swab
(tr foll by up) to take up with a swab

Word Origin for swab

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

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

swab in Medicine




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