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[swob] /swɒb/
a large mop used on shipboard for cleaning decks, living quarters, etc.
a bit of sponge, cloth, cotton, or the like, sometimes fixed to a stick, for cleansing the mouth of a sick person or for applying medicaments, drying areas, etc.
the material collected with a swab as a specimen for microscopic study.
a brush or wad of absorbent material for cleaning the bore of a firearm.
Slang. a sailor; swabby.
Slang. a clumsy fellow.
verb (used with object), swabbed, swabbing.
to clean with or as if with a swab:
to swab the decks.
to take up or apply, as moisture, with or as if with a swab:
to swab soapy water from the decks.
to pass over a surface:
to swab a mop over the decks.
Also, swob.
1645-55; back formation from swabber
Related forms
unswabbed, adjective Unabridged
Based on the Random House Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2014.
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British Dictionary definitions for swab bed


  1. a small piece of cotton, gauze, etc, for use in applying medication, cleansing a wound, or obtaining a specimen of a secretion, etc
  2. the specimen so obtained
a mop for cleaning floors, decks, etc
a brush used to clean a firearm's bore
(slang) an uncouth or worthless fellow
verb swabs, swabbing, swabbed
(transitive) to clean or medicate with or as if with a swab
(transitive) foll by up. to take up with a swab
Word Origin
C16: probably from Middle Dutch swabbe mop; related to Norwegian svabba to splash, Dutch zwabberen to mop, German schwappen to slop over
Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 2012 Digital Edition
© William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd. 1979, 1986 © HarperCollins
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Word Origin and History for swab bed
1659, "mop made of rope or yarn," from swabber (1607) "mop for cleaning a ship's deck," from Du. zwabber, akin to W.Fris. swabber "mop," from P.Gmc. *swab-, perhaps of imitative origin. Non-nautical meaning "anything used for mopping up" is from 1787. The verb is first recorded 1719, possibly from the noun. Slang meaning "a sailor" first attested 1798, from swabber "member of a ship's crew assigned to swab decks" (1591), which by 1609 was being used in a broader sense of "one who behaves like a low-ranking sailor."
Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper
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swab bed in Medicine

swab (swŏb)

  1. A small piece of absorbent material attached to the end of a stick or wire and used for cleansing or applying medicine.

  2. A specimen of mucus or other material removed with a swab.

The American Heritage® Stedman's Medical Dictionary
Copyright © 2002, 2001, 1995 by Houghton Mifflin Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Company.
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Slang definitions & phrases for swab bed



A sailor, esp a Navy seaman: better fitting dress uniforms for the hard-to-fit doughboy or swabbie

[1798+; probably fr the characteristic activity of using swabs for cleaning the decks and other features of a ship]

The Dictionary of American Slang, Fourth Edition by Barbara Ann Kipfer, PhD. and Robert L. Chapman, Ph.D.
Copyright (C) 2007 by HarperCollins Publishers.
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