rubber (n.1)

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.

rubber (n.2)

"deciding match" in a game or contest, usually a third where each has won one, 1590s, a word of unknown origin and signification; even the original form is uncertain. Not obviously connected to rubber (n.1). 

updated on October 15, 2021

Definitions of rubber from WordNet
rubber (n.)
an elastic material obtained from the latex sap of trees (especially trees of the genera Hevea and Ficus) that can be vulcanized and finished into a variety of products;
Synonyms: natural rubber / India rubber / gum elastic / caoutchouc
rubber (n.)
any of various synthetic elastic materials whose properties resemble natural rubber;
Synonyms: synthetic rubber
rubber (n.)
a contest consisting of a series of successive matches between the same sides;
he won three out of five games to take the rubber
rubber (n.)
an eraser made of rubber (or of a synthetic material with properties similar to rubber); commonly mounted at one end of a pencil;
Synonyms: rubber eraser / pencil eraser
rubber (n.)
contraceptive device consisting of a sheath of thin rubber or latex that is worn over the penis during intercourse;
Synonyms: condom / safety / safe / prophylactic
rubber (n.)
a waterproof overshoe that protects shoes from water or snow;
Synonyms: arctic / galosh / golosh / gumshoe
rubber (v.)
coat or impregnate with rubber;
Synonyms: rubberize / rubberise
rubber (adj.)
returned for lack of funds;
a rubber check
Synonyms: no-good
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