early 14c. (implied in scummer "shallow ladle for removing scum"), from Middle Dutch schume "foam, froth," from Proto-Germanic *skuma- (cf. Old Norse skum, Old High German scum, German Schaum "foam, froth"), perhaps from PIE root *(s)keu- "to cover, conceal" (see hide (n.1)).
Sense deteriorated from "thin layer atop liquid" to "film of dirt," then just "dirt." Meaning "lowest class of humanity" is 1580s; scum of the Earth is from 1712. Adopted in Romanic, cf. Old French escume, Modern French écume, Spanish escuma, Italian schiuma.