or swob

  1. a large mop used on shipboard for cleaning decks, living quarters, etc.
  2. 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.
  3. the material collected with a swab as a specimen for microscopic study.
  4. a brush or wad of absorbent material for cleaning the bore of a firearm.
  5. Slang. a sailor; swabby.
  6. Slang. a clumsy fellow.
verb (used with object), swabbed, swab·bing.
  1. to clean with or as if with a swab: to swab the decks.
  2. to take up or apply, as moisture, with or as if with a swab: to swab soapy water from the decks.
  3. 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 formsun·swabbed, adjective
Dictionary.com Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2018

Examples from the Web for swob

Historical Examples of swob

  • Does he, you swob, roared the apparition, an oos goin to give it im?

    The Message

    Louis Tracy

  • If you swob yourself carefully with this, you will not become diseased.

    Safe Marriage

    Ettie A. Rout

British Dictionary definitions for swob


noun, verb swobs, swobbing or swobbed
  1. a less common word for swab


  1. med
    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
  2. a mop for cleaning floors, decks, etc
  3. a brush used to clean a firearm's bore
  4. slang an uncouth or worthless fellow
verb swabs, swabbing or swabbed
  1. (tr) to clean or medicate with or as if with a swab
  2. (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 swob



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

swob in Medicine


  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.