Printable Version
Pronunciation: skrêb Hear it!

Part of Speech: Verb, transitive

Meaning: 1. To rub something hard in order to remove dirt or stains. 2. To cleanse completely, to remove all impurities, as to scrub sulfur dioxide from factory smoke. 3. To cancel or call off, as to scrub plans for a weekend at the beach.

Notes: Although the basic sense of this word refers most commonly to the action of moving a brush or rag back and forth over something dirty, its figurative sense has expanded well beyond that. Today a scrubber is more likely to refer to a device for removing chemical impurities from gasses than someone scrubbing the floor with a rag or mop.

In Play: Let's begin with the basics, today's word in the meaning of cleaning rubbing hard: "Mom told dad that she would rather scrub our clothes on rocks by the river than continue to use our 20-year-old washing machine." Of course, modern marvels have made that kind of scrubbing pass, so sense (3) above is more popular today: "We had to scrub today's rugby match because none of the players could understand the Scottish referee, and he threw them all out of the game for asking him to repeat his calls."

Word History: Today's Good Word originated as scrobben "to curry-comb (a horse)", a close relative of scrape since both go back to Proto-Indo-European (PIE) sker- "to cut". Sharp and scab are also members of this family. How did we get from the sense of "to cut" to "scrub"? Since curry-combing is a process more like scratching than scrubbing and scratching is a mild form of cutting, we can see the semantic development. There was also an old verb to shrub meaning "to scratch". Since shrubs are much like scrub brushes in their scratchiness, that word is related, too. (Today we thank Margie Sved for scrubbing up today's Good Word and dropping it off.)

Dr. Goodword,

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