If a pirate tells you to swab the deck, get out the mop! A swab is a piece of absorbent material on a stick, like a mop, but it can also be small, like a cotton swab used for cleaning ears.

As a verb, to swab means to use a swab. So if you're a nurse assisting a surgeon, you might swab an incision, and if you're working on crime scene, you might swab the area for clues. On land, a swab is usually a small piece of cotton, but the original meaning of the noun was "mop used on a ship," and for a while it was also a popular derogatory term for a low-ranking sailor.

Definitions of swab

n cleaning implement consisting of absorbent material fastened to a handle; for cleaning floors

mop, swob
dry mop, dust mop, dustmop
a dry swab for dusting floors
sponge mop
a wet mop with a sponge as the absorbent
Type of:
cleaning device, cleaning equipment, cleaning implement
any of a large class of implements used for cleaning

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

Type of:
instrumentation (a piece of equipment or tool) used to effect an end

v apply (usually a liquid) to a surface

dab, swob
Type of:
apply, put on
apply to a surface

v wash with a swab or a mop

swab the ship's decks”
Type of:
mop, mop up, wipe up
to wash or wipe with or as if with a mop

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