Why "scrub"?
January 12, 2008 2:07 PM   Subscribe

Why is "scrub" suddenly the most popular insult among 12-year-olds?

It seems like I can't play World of Warcraft for 5 minutes any more without someone being called a "scrub". This has just happened in the past few months. I feel like I've walked into The Outsiders. WTF is up? What piece of popular culture am I missing here?
posted by dagnyscott to Writing & Language (28 answers total)
Urban Dictionary on "scrub".
posted by teleskiving at 2:13 PM on January 12, 2008

Is TLC popular again?
posted by Frank Grimes at 2:17 PM on January 12, 2008

That first entry on Urban Dictionary is from a Destiny's Child song that was popular about ten years ago. Maybe people who use the term scrub are trying to be retro. Although the mid-late 90s seems a bit recent to be retro yet.
posted by brittanyq at 2:18 PM on January 12, 2008

oops, it was a TLC song, sorry.
posted by brittanyq at 2:19 PM on January 12, 2008

"Scrub" is actually a pretty old insult that dates to 14th century English. I heard it a lot when I was in junior high (~1992), but you'll find it in Shakespeare and other old English literature. It's in the dictionary as an insult, too.
posted by autojack at 2:20 PM on January 12, 2008

Unless you somehow have contact with all 12year-olds everywhere, this question needs to become more specific, at least geographically. As FG's already pointed out, this term is not at all new; that song was recorded around 1999, which would suggest it was around for at least some time even before that.
posted by Su at 2:20 PM on January 12, 2008

...like the 14th century, apparently...
This actually isn't all that uncommon. "Phat" was around long before hip hop got to it, also.
posted by Su at 2:22 PM on January 12, 2008

Wow...yeah, as brittanyq notes, scrub was popular when I was in middle school, 10 years ago.
posted by limeonaire at 2:26 PM on January 12, 2008

Introducing the Scrub. It can be used as another variant on "n00b", or "A scrub is a player who is handicapped by self-imposed rules that the game knows nothing about. A scrub does not play to win.". See also here.

This question was asked on the WoW forums. The responses indicate that not a lot of people know the second meaning.
posted by Gary at 2:41 PM on January 12, 2008

As Gary's first link shows, scrub has been gaming related for quite a while. Why a growth in usage now? Not a clue. I think slang usage is probably a fairly complex system.
posted by muteh at 2:49 PM on January 12, 2008

See also: scrubber.
posted by meehawl at 2:59 PM on January 12, 2008

While I can't answer your question specifically as regards "scrub" I can tell you that when I was teaching 3rd and 4th graders chess in an afterschool program 2 years ago they were steeped in mid-90s pop culture. The girls talked more about the Spice Girls than they did about any current band. And I remember them singing No Scrubs to taunt boys.
posted by Kattullus at 3:01 PM on January 12, 2008

I've heard very highly offensive terms like "gay", "retarded", variations on the n-word, and many derogative terms for women spoken freely among the jr. high set. "Scrub" seems like a pretty tame alternative.
posted by red_lotus at 3:25 PM on January 12, 2008

I remember scrub being used to denote the second (and lower) string players on a sports team. When the score was lopsided, the scrubs were sent in to play the remainder of the game. But, that's me being middle aged. WOOT I'm MIDDLE AGED MAN!!!
posted by Eekacat at 4:05 PM on January 12, 2008

De La Soul used "scrub" a lot in their early albums. Three Feet High and Rising came out in 89, I think.

"Dante is a scrub (a super scrub)!"
posted by Ike_Arumba at 5:04 PM on January 12, 2008 [1 favorite]

i remember the term being used back when I was in school. i was in Jr High in 76 or so and it was being used then.

northeast, pretty nice area, not too far from NYC for some culture/location reference.
posted by KenManiac at 5:37 PM on January 12, 2008

I remember scrub being used to denote the second (and lower) string players on a sports team.


I still use it today at baseball games to taunt players on the visiting team, or to scold those who deserve it on the home team.
posted by poppo at 6:35 PM on January 12, 2008

We use to use it a lot in elementary school (the late 80's) to mean a dirty person, someone who needed a good scrubbing
posted by Mick at 7:14 PM on January 12, 2008

Where I come from (North of Kansas City, Missouri), "scrub" has long meant a dirty person, a ne'er do well from dirty parents, a smoker, and a stoner, and for girls, sexually promiscuous. Very trailer park. A smelly person with bad teeth and poor vocabulary comes to mind. It was actually one of the biggest social groups at my high school. I'm pretty sure it's been around for at least 2 or 3 generations. AKA, a "hoosier" where I live now.
posted by mynameismandab at 7:51 PM on January 12, 2008

Ahh!!! I knew I remembered that word from jr. high, but I couldn't remember what it meant. In the Chicago suburbs of the mid-80s, it meant second (and lower) string players on a sports team.
posted by clh at 10:50 PM on January 12, 2008

Scrub was an extremely common term for sixth graders when I went to middle school, which was about ten years ago.
posted by crinklebat at 10:50 PM on January 12, 2008

I think it's bandied about for at least a decade now by a few different hip-hop artists, often a word that girls use for guys who are lame. As a side note, it was used as a pejorative in Kill Bill, by Darryl Hannah's character. That might have something to do with it's re-emergence?
posted by SassHat at 11:18 PM on January 12, 2008

I heard it plenty when I was in junior high around 78-79...
posted by jockc at 11:42 PM on January 12, 2008

5. transf. a. A mean insignificant fellow, a person of little account or poor appearance.
1589 WARNER Alb. Eng. VI. xxxi. 137 Must I, thought I, giue aime to such a Skrub and such a Saint, That Skowndrell, and this Counterfeit. 1657 TRAPP Comm. Ps. lxii. 4 Neither is there ever a better of these glavering companions, dissembling scrubs. 1749 FIELDING Tom Jones VIII. iv, He is an arrant scrub, I assure you. 1876 T. HARDY Ethelberta xlvii. II. 256 Any poor scrubs in our place must be fools not to think the match a very rare and astonishing honour, as far as the position goes.

b. slang. A disreputable woman; a prostitute, tart.
1900 Dialect Notes II. 58 Scrub,.. a disreputable woman who frequents the streets. 1964 New Statesman 10 Apr. 555/2 A ‘scrub’ is a Rocker girl; that is, someone not fond of washing, according to the Mods, and a bit of a tart.

c. U.S. Sport. (a) A player belonging to a second or weaker team (freq. in pl.); a team composed of such players. Also fig. Cf. SCRUB a. 4.
1892 College Index (Agric. & Mech. Coll. Alabama) Nov. 23 Arranged similarly, but with darker stockings, stand the inimitable ‘scrubs’, and although their name is rather depreciatory, they themselves are not to be scoffed at. 1903 N.Y. Even. Post 28 Oct. 9/5 The halfback tries his mettle against the scrubs. [...] 1956 B. HOLIDAY Lady sings Blues xxi. 173, I wouldn't have known the first team from the scrubs, but Ehrlich told me the prosecutor and the judge were the best they had. 1961 J. S. SALAK Dict. Amer. Sports 385 Scrub, a player of the second, or weaker, team; one not good enough to be on the first team.
Insults, like other slang terms, go in and out of popularity for obscure reasons.
posted by languagehat at 7:34 AM on January 13, 2008

Scrubber has always meant 'a woman of easy virtue' - at least, way back in the 70's, when I was in middle school. This is in the UK.
posted by dash_slot- at 7:47 AM on January 13, 2008

I've heard a 97 year old man say "Don't be a scrub", and I know he's not using it because he wants to fit in with the cool kids.
posted by blue_beetle at 8:55 AM on January 13, 2008

When I was attending Jr. High in Los Angeles back in 93-94 a "scrub" was a 7th grader. Jr. high was 7th-8th grades so the "scrubs" were the noobs in the that arena.
posted by sideshow at 11:36 PM on January 13, 2008

When I was in 8th grade my friends and I called ourselves scrubs (after others tried to call us that derogatively). We weren't preps or jocks or nerds or goths. We were "unpopular" and decided to collectively remove ourselves from that social ladder.
posted by yeti at 8:25 AM on January 14, 2008

« Older It happened to this one lady one time   |   First time visit to Chicago Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.