The slang term “scrub” is fairly popular today. It might be related to the popular hit classic “No Scrubs” by TLC, but there’s more to it than that. This article will look into the meaning of the phrase and where it came from.
What Does The Slang Term “Scrub” Mean?
A “scrub” is somebody who does not excel at anything and who nobody expects greatness from. “Scrub” is an insult to someone who doesn’t belong in a team in some way or someone who doesn’t have the required skills or attitude that someone might be looking for.
Because it’s a slang term, there isn’t an exact definition of who can be a “scrub.” It keeps itself open so that anyone can be called one, and the meaning can vary based on what you want it to be.
The only place you probably won’t hear it is in the workplace since slang terms are often kept clear of those! You won’t hear your boss saying it much (unless they do so in private).
Using it with your friends or casually with people you know is acceptable. Remember though; it’s not the nicest term to call somebody, as you’re likening them to being useless in some way.
What Is The Origin Of The Slang Term “Scrub”?
Where does the slang term come from then? Some people believe it might have started because of the TLC song, but it dates back much further than that!
1589, First Instance of “Scrub”
Yes, you read that right. 1589 seems to be the first time that “scrub” is used as a common slang term to insult somebody.
There isn’t much information available because it’s so old. However, “scrub” meant a “contemptible person” in 1589, which meant that other people viewed them as despicable or lowly.
It’s a pretty harsh definition, and it wasn’t seen again for a long time after the 16th century.
1892, The Sporting Meaning of “Scrub”
Now, we arrive at the sporting definition of the phrase, which is perhaps the most common one you’ll come across.
In 1892, it referenced that a “scrub” is somebody who did not make the first team in school. They are kept on the bench because of this, hoping that they might prove useful (but that day will only come once the good players graduate).
This meaning has stuck since 1892. We now refer to “scrubs” as the players who aren’t good enough to play for a team even though they’re on it. The coaches will keep them around just in case, but their careers in the sport never amount to much.
1999, TLC “No Scrubs”
Of course, it wouldn’t be an origin story of “scrub” without this song to mention. Sure, it wasn’t the first recorded usage of the phrase, and it wasn’t even close, but it certainly brought the word into common knowledge.
In 1999, TLC released the song “No Scrubs,” in which they sing about men who don’t offer them anything good. They’re not interested in relationships with these men, so they ignore them and move on, singing about how useless and lame they are.
Because of this song, “scrub” has become a household slang phrase. Almost everyone who knows the song understands what the modern term “scrub” means.
Examples Of How To Use The Slang Term “Scrub” In A Sentence
We’ll cover some examples to help you understand more about the word. We’ll try to keep the definitions broad here so that we can cover as many of the ones as we’ve mentioned already.
- You’re nothing more than a scrub, and I really don’t want anything to do with you.
- Look, I don’t need no scrubs. A scrub is a guy who can get no love from me.
- Have you seen the scrub they’ve got on the bench? There’s no way he’ll ever play for the team!
- Johnny’s the latest scrub that the football team has picked up. That’s such a shame because I thought he was quite good.
- She’s a scrub, and I don’t want anything more to do with her!
- Don’t be such a scrub and go and talk to her! You might be surprised by what you find out.
- There are too many scrubs on this team, so we need to rejig it before they overwhelm us.
A “scrub” is somebody who is looked down upon by other people or who doesn’t offer much because they lack skills or attitude.
What Is A “Scrub” Person?
A “scrub” is somebody who doesn’t offer anything useful to anybody. It can refer to an individual (i.e., a girl who doesn’t see anything fun or interesting about a guy) or a group (i.e., a sporting team who need numbers but don’t like the skills of the “scrub” player).
Is “Scrub” An Insult?
If you’ve been paying attention throughout this article, you should already know the answer to this question.
“Scrub” is an insulting slang word. We use it when we want to diminish a person’s achievements or skills. We often call people “scrubs” when we think less of them or think that we’re better than they are in some way.
Of course, most of the time that people use “scrub,” they’re doing so in jest. It’s accepted between friends that words like “scrubs” are never meant with malice or contempt.
Still, if you genuinely mean to call somebody a “scrub,” or if somebody has called you one, it’s likely that it will be received as an insult. You should be careful doing this because you never know who you might upset.
Synonyms For The “Scrub” Slang
Finally, let’s go over some synonyms for the slang phrase. Since it’s a slang phrase, it’s much more common to come across other slang terms that have the same meaning.
These words all work well to replace the slang form of “scrub.” We can use it to refer to people in the same insulting manner, especially when it’s clear that we don’t think they’ll amount to much in their lives.
Martin holds a Master’s degree in Finance and International Business. He has six years of experience in professional communication with clients, executives, and colleagues. Furthermore, he has teaching experience from Aarhus University. Martin has been featured as an expert in communication and teaching on Forbes and Shopify. Read more about Martin here.