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
  1. noun
    cleaning implement consisting of absorbent material fastened to a handle; for cleaning floors
    synonyms: mop, swob
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    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
  2. noun
    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
    see moresee less
    type of:
    instrumentation (a piece of equipment or tool) used to effect an end
  3. verb
    apply (usually a liquid) to a surface
    synonyms: dab, swob
    see moresee less
    type of:
    apply, put on
    apply to a surface
  4. verb
    wash with a swab or a mop
    swab the ship's decks”
    synonyms: swob
    see moresee less
    type of:
    mop, mop up, wipe up
    to wash or wipe with or as if with a mop
Word Family

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