early 14c., rubben, transitive and intransitive, "apply friction on a surface; massage (the body or a part of it)," a word of uncertain origin, perhaps related to East Frisian rubben "to scratch, rub," and Low German rubbeling "rough, uneven," or similar words in Scandinavian (compare Danish rubbe "to rub, scrub," Norwegian rubba), all of uncertain origin. Related: Rubbed; rubbing.
To rub (someone) the wrong way is by 1853; probably the notion is of animals and their fur. To rub noses in greeting as a sign of friendship (attested from 1822) said to have been formerly common among Eskimos, Maoris, and some other Pacific Islanders. Rub out is from late 14c. as "scrape away," also figurative; the meaning "obliterate" is from 1560s; underworld slang sense of "kill" is recorded from 1848, American English. Rub off "remove by rubbing" is from 1590s; rub off on "have an influence on" is recorded by 1959.
"act of rubbing," 1610s, from rub (v.). Earlier it meant "obstacle, inequality on ground" (1580s), a sense common in 17c., especially in the game of bowls, in reference to something that slows or deflects a bowl, on the notion of "rubbing against" it. Hence the figure in Hamlet's there's the rub (1602). The earlier noun was rubbing (late 14c.).
1530s, "thing that rubs" (a brush, cloth, etc.), agent noun from rub (v.). By c. 1600 as "one who applies friction or massage in some process."
The meaning "elastic substance from tropical plants" is recorded by 1788, short for India rubber. Earlier known also as catouchou, caoutchouc, it was introduced to Europe 1744 by Charles Marie de la Condamine, so called because it originally was used to erase pencil marks from paper, etc. Later extended to synthetic substances having the same qualities.
This substance is very useful in drawing, &c., for erasing the strokes of black lead pencils, and is popularly called rubber, and lead-eater. [from the entry for Caoutchouc in George Selby Howard, "New Royal Cyclopaedia," 1788]
The meaning "an overshoe made of rubber" is 1842, American English; slang sense of "contraceptive sheath, condom" is by 1930s. As an adjective by 1844, "In very common use from about 1875" [OED]. Some figurative phrases are from the notion of rubber automobile tires.
Rubber cement "adhesive compound containing rubber" is attested from 1856 (from 1823 as India-rubber cement). Rubber check (one that "bounces") is from 1927. The decorative household rubber plant is so called by 1876 (earlier India-rubber plant, by 1805). Rubber-chicken circuit "after-dinner speaking tour" is by 1959, in reference to the likely quality of the food.