Green’s Dictionary of Slang

scrub n.1

[SE scrub, an insignificant, unattractive person]

1. a general pej. term, a lout, a failure, a dirty or unpleasant person or thing.

[UK]B.E. Dict. Canting Crew n.p.: Scrub a Ragamuffin.
[UK]New Canting Dict. [as cit. c.1698].
[UK]Proceedings at Sessions (City of London) Apr. 17/1: He said, he was a Gentleman and a Scholar, calling them [two women] Scrubs.
[US]A. Hamilton Tuesday Club Bk II in Micklus (1995) 28: They would call him a hundred abusive names [...] such as lousy, scabby scot, poor rascally pedlar, Itchified son of a bitch [...] Skip kennel Scrub, nasty, blewbellied, blanket ars’d, hip-shotten, maggot eaten, round about, Snuff besmeard, flyblown Son of a whore.
[UK]Smollett Peregrine Pickle (1964) 425: Ah! you pitiful cuckoldy scrub.
[UK]O. Goldsmith Vicar of Wakefield (1883) 63: We should go there in as proper a manner as possible; not altogether like the scrubs about us.
[UK]Bridges Burlesque Homer (3rd edn) 18: They seem to me a race of scrubs.
[UK]Entire New List of the Sporting Ladies [broadsheet] [of venereal disease] From the other side of the Tweed [...] come a numerous String of Brimstones [...] They are now all warranted clear of the Scrub, having been well fumigated.
[UK]G.A. Stevens Adventures of a Speculist II 226: She snapt her fingers [...] called him scrub, and swore she would live with me upon bread and water.
[UK]Bridges Burlesque Homer (4th edn) I 26: In your own parish kick your scrubs.
[UK]Sporting Mag. Mar. XVII 310/1: The Corsican [i.e. Napoleon], they say, / Is an usurping scrub.
[UK]Lex. Balatronicum.
[Ire]Spirit of Irish Wit 99: ‘A pair of poor scrubs that can’t afford me full price’.
[UK]London Standard 17 Aug. 4/2: A base, proud, beggarly scrub.
[UK]Satirist (London) 10 July 110/3: [headline] the dirty scrub [...] would it not be paltry in us to apply to a nature at once so rational and passive the terms of extortioner, traitor, liar, or poltroon?
[Ire]T. Power St Patrick’s Eve III iii: You coax’d me to take this scrub of yours for my batman.
[Ire] ‘Molly Popps’ in Dublin Comic Songster 274: Cried Moll, ‘you stupid, rash cub, / Think you, I’d marry such a scrub?’.
[UK]Paul Pry 5 Mar. 6/2: [Y]ou dirty lazy scrub, the man has kept you from starving repeatedly.
[US]B.H. Hall College Words (rev. edn) 406: scrub. One who is disliked for his meanness, ill-breeding, or vulgarity.
[UK]Leaves from Diary of Celebrated Burglar 70/2: She was a ‘sly’ old scrub.
[UK]J. Greenwood Dick Temple II 162: She had upbraided the poor faithful little scrub.
[US]C.L. Martin A Sketch of Sam Bass (1956) 141: Well, boys, if you scrubs can get that much, I think Jim and I can draw at least fifty thousand.
[UK]G. Grossmith [perf. Lionel Brough] ‘An Awful Little Scrub’ 🎵 He said I looked a scrub, / He said I looked a scrub, / An awful little scrub, mother dear.
[US]H. Blossom Checkers 40: I’m no ‘scrub.’ I come from good people.
[US]W. Irwin Love Sonnets of a Hoodlum XIV n.p.: Last night when at the Rainbow Social Club She did the bunny hug with every scrub.
[US]J. London Smoke Bellew (1926) 117: I’m the real, bitter, stinging goods, and no scrub of a mountaineer can put anything over on me without getting it back compound.
[US]J.H. Cook Fifty Years on the Old Frontier 117: In all classes of men there were drags—‘scrubs’—who managed to ride along by some means.
[US]J.M. Cain Postman Always Rings Twice (1985) 157: These Californian and Mexican things are just scrubs compared to them.
[UK]Gloucs. Echo 30 Sept. 3/6: Lesser scrubs and decent folk are given good measure by the rest of the cast.
[US]Monteleone Criminal Sl. (rev. edn).
[US]M. Shulman Rally Round the Flag, Boys! (1959) 183: He had benched his regulars and sent in his scrubs.
[Ire]W.F Marshall ‘The Lad’ Livin’ in Drumlister 49: I knowed a scutcher that wrought in Shane, / He was a drunken scrub.
[US]Teen Lingo: The Source for Youth Ministry 🌐 scrub n. Someone undesirable. ‘Man, I ain’t hangin’ out with them scrubs!’.
[US]T. Robinson Hard Bounce [ebook] ‘Some news scrubs hit the Square’.
[US]C. Eble (ed.) UNC-CH Campus Sl. Spring 2014 Fall 5: SCRUB — person inept at a video game despite experience.
[US]C. Eble (ed.) UNC-CH Campus Sl. Spring 2016 8: SCRUB — annoying person.

2. (also scrub girl) a low-class prostitute.

[UK]C. Walker Authentick Memoirs of Sally Salisbury 90: She solemnly swore, that if he ever mentioned the Scrub or Subject any more, his own Blood not Claret, should next stain his Shirt.
[UK]Bridges Burlesque Homer (3rd edn) 264: I could not blame / Our Trojan scrubs for making game, / Nor brimstones with their sweeping tails, / Asking their culls what hector ails?
[US]E.H. Babbitt ‘College Words and Phrases’ in DN II:i 58: scrub, n. A disreputable woman who frequents the streets.
[US]C.B. Chrysler White Slavery 46: They all travel the same road, be they queens or scrub girls.
[US]S. Ornitz Haunch Paunch and Jowl 60: Hymie preferred the Five Points scrubs because they were cheap and did not seem to be human beings.

3. (UK Und.) a low-class thief.

[UK]J. Dalton Narrative of Street-Robberies 17: Hulks, Black Isaac, and other Scrubs of the Faculty.

4. one who does not pay their share of the tavern bill.

[UK]Fielding Tom Jones (1959) 247: He is an arrant scrub, I assure you.
[UK]Smollett (trans.) Adventures of Gil Blas IV 154: Rich people are not always generous, and I know some of them who are mere scrubs.
[UK]‘Jon Bee’ Dict. of the Turf, the Ring, the Chase, etc.

5. (US) a derog. term for a black person.

[US]Knickerbocker (N.Y.) ix Mar. 261: Mass Captain Ross was engaged at a scrub-ball, given in honor of ‘de fair sec.’.
[US]E. Custer Tenting on the Plains (rev. edn 1895) 31: But whatever she’s a-doin’ with that old scrub nigger, I can’t make out.
[US]Bentley & Corbett Prison Sl. 56: Scrub A black person.
[US]Arizona Republic (Phoenix, AZ) 14 Jan. 39/2: [advert] If you’re tired of being hit on by scrubs and skeezas, think about classing up your cocktail hour at [etc].
[US]in J. Miller Getting Played 74: ‘She’ll call him a scrub, he’ll call her a pigeon...Somebody playing too much’.

6. (US) a beggar who is willing to perform occasional paid work, usu. as a ‘shabbos goy’, performing work that orthodox Jews may not do on the Sabbath.

[US]J.A. Riis How the Other Half Lives 248: These latter came from the low groggeries of the Tenth Ward, where a peculiar variety of the female tramp-beggar is at home, the ‘scrub.’ The scrub is one degree perhaps above the average pauper in this, that she is willing to work at least one day in the week, generally the Jewish Sabbath. The orthodox Jew can do no work of any sort from Friday evening till sunset on Saturday, and this interim the scrub fills out in Ludlow Street.
[US]J.A. Riis Battle with the Slum 171: [caption] A ‘Scrub’ and her Bed—the Plank.

7. (US black) a fool.

[US]J. Lait ‘Charlie the Wolf’ Beef, Iron and Wine (1917) 69: They was many a bet down that day, and some o’ the poor scrubs stood to lose everything.
[US]Bentley & Corbett Prison Sl. 50: Scrub An ignorant individual.
[US]Eble Campus Sl. Spring 6: scrub [...] socially inept male. Look at that geek over there – hes such a scrub.

8. (US) in athletics, a second-string player.

[US]W.D. Myers Hoops 99: I looked again. They were starting their scrubs!
[US]W.D. Myers Slam! 43: I was thinking about Nick and Trip starting and me being on the bench. It was like I was some kind of a scrub.

9. (US black/teen) a sponger, a parasite.

[US]UGK ‘Use Me Up’ 🎵 All my friends be sayin, ‘She ain’t nothin but a scrub’.
[US]A. Rodriguez Spidertown (1994) 79: Outta here, scrub, you ain’t big enough t’ ride with us.
[US]R. Jacobs in San Jose Mercury News 11 May n.p.: Scrub (n) – A person who has no money or anything of value and lives off others; a guy who gets no respect or attention from females. No girl would go out with Jack because he was a scrub.
[US]TLC ‘No Scrub’ 🎵 A scrub is a guy that thinks he’s fly / And is also known as a buster (busta, busta...) / Always talkin’ about what he wants / And just sits on his broke ass.

10. (US teen) an exploitative womanizer.

[US]Eble Campus Sl. Apr. 6: scrub – guy who thinks he’s attractive and is always trying to pick up women; unfaithful male.
[US]Teen Lingo: The Source for Youth Ministry 🌐 scrub n. [...] 3. guy pigeon, dawg, tramp, player, stays in a relationship only long enough to have sex, then pretending he’s never met her.

In derivatives

scrubbish (adj.)


[UK]Sporting Mag. Oct. XI 43/1: Short Characters: The French, specious, vain, cruel, impious – Dutch, trucking scrubbish.
scrubby (adj.)


[Ind]‘Aliph Cheem’ Lays of Ind (1905) 58: She who has a trusting hubby, / And betrays that hubby’s trust, / Does an action very scrubby.