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A phrase I sometimes hear from one of my colleagues is scumbag or scumbags:

  • Where does this phrase come from?
  • How old is it?
  • Is its usage still a common occurrence?
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4  
I think the popularity of "scumbag" has waned along with the Dirty Harry films, but it is still in use, and people would certainly be properly insulted if you called them that. I'm going to start using it again myself, now that you've mentioned it. –  KitFox Jun 2 '11 at 11:38
    
Look what you've done! –  Thursagen Jun 2 '11 at 11:39
    
@ThirdIdiot @Kit is yet another "convert". Whomever I mention this phrase to seems to adopt it! –  Treffynnon Jun 2 '11 at 12:02
    
Haha! The Phenomenon of the Treffynnon influence. –  Thursagen Jun 2 '11 at 12:03
    
I am an avid user of the word. I used to own a shirt that just said "Scumbag" - after seeing this page, I do not believe I would have made that purchase. –  naspinski Dec 16 '12 at 15:13
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3 Answers

up vote 11 down vote accepted

scumbag "condom," by 1967, slang, from scum + bag. Meaning "despicable person" is attested by 1971.

Etymonline

I found a condom reference back to 1939 in this snippet from the American Journal of Orthopsychiatry, Volume 9. The date seems accurate:

http://books.google.com/books?id=rsYVAAAAIAAJ&q=%22scumbag%22+OR+%22scum+bag%22&dq=%22scumbag%22+OR+%22scum+bag%22&hl=en&ei=rXbnTdraLKLm0QGGnNX2Cg&sa=X&oi=book_result&ct=result&resnum=5&ved=0CD4Q6AEwBA

And I found this figurative use of the phrase from Chandler Brossard's 1953 The Bold Saboteurs:

What a scum bag of a world it was, what a miserable rat's life. I was getting so depressed I was forgetting the money in my pocket. In the early evening we all broke up. I told the fellows I might see them later at Sinbad's Bar

(See @Kit's comment above for current usage.)

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1  
So, as an insult, it is the male version of "douchebag"??? –  GEdgar Jun 29 '12 at 15:44
    
@Callithumpian: The 1939 snippet image is now broken and I don't see it at Google Books to upload via imgur. –  Hugo Jan 19 '13 at 19:57
    
@Hugo: What should I do, disable the links? –  Callithumpian Jan 30 '13 at 4:32
    
@Callithumpian: Strange, the image in the question is shown now. Must have been a temporary error. Sorry for the confusion! –  Hugo Jan 30 '13 at 6:23
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I found an earlier reference for scum-bag as a straining bag used when refining sugar, described in 1819's The Cyclopædia;: or, Universal Dictionary of Arts, Sciences, and Literature, Volume 34 by Abraham Rees:

Having kept it simmering for several hours, and having provided a cooler or receiver, over which is placed a strong wooden frame, and upon this a basket, to which a coarse bag, called the scum-bag, is fitted, he pours the contents of his pan into this basket and bag; and then the mouth of the bag is drawn up, and well twisted together, and a strong board, called a scum-board, is laid upon the bags, with several weights upon the board, to press down the scum.

Etymonline notes scum is early 14th century from foam or froth and:

Sense deteriorated from "thin layer atop liquid" to "film of dirt," then just "dirt." Meaning "lowest class of humanity" is 1580s

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And if scum is dirty, the bag you collect it and keep it in is dirtier yet. –  Oldcat Jan 7 at 19:07
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From the new free dictionary online

scumbag [ˈskʌmˌbæg]
n
Slang an offensive or despicable person
[perhaps from earlier US sense: condom, from US slang scum semen + bag]

Origin: 1965–70; scum + bag

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protected by Jasper Loy Jun 29 '12 at 15:49

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