Etymology
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swab (n.)

1650s, "mop made of rope or yarn," used for cleaning the deck of a ship, etc., from swabber (c. 1600) "mop for cleaning a ship's deck," from Dutch zwabber, akin to West Frisian swabber "mop," from Proto-Germanic *swabb-, a word perhaps of imitative origin and denoting back-and-forth motion, especially in liquid.

Non-nautical meaning "anything used for mopping up" is from 1787; as "cloth or sponge on a handle to cleanse the mouth of the sick, etc.," from 1854. The slang meaning "a sailor" is attested by 1798, is short for swabber "member of a ship's crew assigned to swab decks" (1590s), which by c. 1600 was being used in a broader sense of "one who behaves like a low-ranking sailor, one fit only to use a swab."

swab (v.)

"clean (the decks of a ship) with water and a swab," 1719, possibly a back-formation from swabber (see swab (n.)). Related: Swabbed; swabbing. Swabification "mopping" is attested by 1833.

updated on September 11, 2022

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Definitions of swab from WordNet
1
swab (v.)
wash with a swab or a mop;
swab the ship's decks
Synonyms: swob
swab (v.)
apply (usually a liquid) to a surface;
Synonyms: dab / swob
2
swab (n.)
implement consisting of a small piece of cotton that is used to apply medication or cleanse a wound or obtain a specimen of a secretion;
swab (n.)
cleaning implement consisting of absorbent material fastened to a handle; for cleaning floors;
Synonyms: swob / mop
Etymologies are not definitions. From wordnet.princeton.edu, not affiliated with etymonline.