I wonder if the term scut work, used in american hospitals, could be related to the term scab worker, as in a lowly person who crosses picket lines, since it relates to work that doctors will, and will not, do.


1 Answer 1


J.S. Farmer & W.E. Henley, Slang & Its Analogues (1903) has entries for scab and scut (and scute) but doesn't associate any of those words with nonunion, strike-breaking workers. Here are the entries:

SCAB, subs. (old).—1. A rascal " spec[ifically] a constable or sheriff's officer: often jocular. Hence SCABBY (or SCAB)=contemptible; beggarly; SCABBY-SHEEP = a ne'er-do-weel; SCABILONIAN [cross reference omitted] [First citation is from 1591 (Lyly).]


SCUT, subs. (venery).—1. The female pudendum [cross reference omitted] and (2) the pubic hair [cross reference omitted] [First citation is from 1596 (Shakespeare).]

SCUTE. subs. (old).—(1) A small coin: hence a low standard. [First citation is from 1596 (Nash).]

Eric Partidge, A Dictionary of Slang an Unconventional English, first edition (1936) reports the same original meaning of scab as Farmer & Henley, but then adds this second definition:

scab. ... 2.—Hence, a workman refusing to strike, esp. one working while his companions are on strike: orig. (1811), U.S., anglicised ca. 1880. Occ[asionally] attrbutively.

Partridge does not have an entry for scut. Harold Wentworth & Stuart Flexner Dictionary of American Slang, first edition (1960), covers both words, however:

scab n. A worker who refuses to join a union or go on strike; esp. , a worker who will cross a union picket line to take the place of a striking worker.


scut n. 1 A contemptible or mean person --> 2 An inexperienced person; a newcomer, rookie, apprentice, or fraternity pledge. 3 = scud ["Hard boring, or tedious tasks; minor details that are unrewarding and time-consuming."]

Robert Chapman & Barbara Kipfer, Dictionary of American Slang, third edition (1995), pushes the origin of scab in the sense of attempted strikebreaker to "by 1777." It also has this lengthy entry for scut:

scut 1 n by 1873 A detestable or contemptible person; =CRUMB, LOUSE [citation omitted] 2 n by 1950s A novice; recruit; neophyte [citation omitted] 3 n (also scud or scut work) by 1950s Menial work such as would be given to a novice [citation omitted] 4 n (also scut dog or scut monkey or scut puppy) medical by 1940s A junior intern or physician 5 n (also scut work) medical by 1940s Routine and tedious medical procedures usually relegated to the least senior member of the staff {the 1500s slang use, "vulva, cunt" and the standard use "tail of a hare or deer," suggest a core sense "tail, buttocks, ass," reinforced by British dialect skut, "crouch down," and perhaps related to Old Norse skutr, "stern of a ship"; scut meant "little boy," perhaps fr Scots scudler, "scullion, kitchen boy," among Scotch-Irish settlersin Pennsylvania}

So even though at one stage or another in their evolution both scab and scut were used to refer to "a contemptible person," there is no evidence that one term gave rise to the other. Both terms have long histories that help explain their current meanings without reference to one another.


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