As I sat in the steam room after half-killing myself at the gym earlier today, contemplating the meaning of life, I noticed that a certain amount of dirt had accumulated on the lateral sides of my – by that point rather pruny and wrinkly – hands, requiring a bit of scrubbing in the shower to become properly clean again.

I suddenly remembered always being told off as a kid by my parents and teachers and other such boring people for not scrubbing the sides of my hands properly, allowing for dirt to cake up there, even if the rest of the hand was clean enough; and similarly for the feet, where it typically builds up on the lateral side of the hindfoot, between the lower end of the fibula and the cuboid bone.

Into my mind popped the Danish word gravrust (referring literally to the type of corrosion called ‘pitting’ in English), which is used metaphorically for this specific type of dirt on the outside of the hands and feet that builds up over time if you’re not careful to scrub the sides properly when washing.1

I don’t think I’ve heard this word since my days as a kid when boring adults were forever telling me to scrub it off, but I seem to recall it being used fairly often back then (rather more often that I would have liked, because it usually meant I had to go and wash my hands again).

It occurred to me that I don’t know of an English term for this kind of stubborn dirt, most commonly seen on kids who enjoy wreaking havoc in the garden rather more than scrubbing their hands to remove what’s left of said garden afterwards. Since such a preference is not unusual in children, I’m guessing the condition is well-known to most parents in English-speaking countries as well… but after about five minutes of battling with Google, I am no wiser as to what they call it. I can’t find anyone mentioning it in any terms that I can think of to Google for.

There are of course any number of general terms for dirty children (grimy, grubby for the kids themselves; crud, muck, smut for the dirt), but they’re all quite general – they just refer to dirt on the body in general and don’t carry the connotation of being resistant to casual washing. Gravrust, conversely, refers to dirt which is in a position that tends to be missed when washing your hands or feet (the lateral edges), and therefore tends to build up more easily, to the point that vigorous scrubbing is required to get rid of it.

Is there a specific word or expression for this in English, beyond descriptive phrases like caked dirt on the sides of your hands?

Note: Dialectal and regional terms are welcome. The Danish word is quite colloquial and, as mentioned, somewhat limited in scope, and it’s fine if any English equivalent is too.


1 A quick dictionary and Google search reveals that it can be used for caked dirt elsewhere as well, but I’ve only ever heard it used to refer to the stuff that builds up on the lateral sides of hands and feet.

  • Not to be confused with the hind foot.
    – TimR
    Mar 17, 2019 at 13:33
  • @TRomano Anatomically, one might say it’s the hindfoot of the hind foot. Mar 17, 2019 at 13:44
  • 1
    A comment as it's a non-answer: I don't think there's anything specific to the location. "Stubborn dirt" is one relevant phrase used in British English
    – Chris H
    Mar 18, 2019 at 16:18
  • 1
    @DavidHeyman I wouldn’t call it archaic. A bit old-fashioned and definitely dialectal, but something like “You’ve got a smut on your nose” has been common enough colloquially within the last couple of generations. Nowadays, of course, the sexual meanings are vastly more common. Jan 8, 2020 at 16:13
  • 1
    I only get dirt on the outside of my hands because the inside is protected by skin.
    – nnnnnn
    Jan 10, 2020 at 2:00

8 Answers 8


The Cambridge Dictionary has the word



a layer of dirt on skin or on a building:

This is typically used to mean ingrained dirt such as you describe, not fresh dirt, and does not easily wash off.

  • 3
    This is probably the best so far, since the ‘ingrained’ connotations are strongest here; but it still falls short in that it’s completely indifferent to location – so much that my initial mental image for the word is buildings and walls, rather than people. Mar 17, 2019 at 14:31
  • Another word is "grunge". Mar 17, 2019 at 14:33
  • 1
    I have literally never experienced this phenomenon.
    – Daniel B
    Mar 17, 2019 at 18:06
  • 1
    @DanielB People with access to hygiene don't usually get easily-noticeable grime lasting more than a few hours, or a workday. Examples could be: tree pitch, clay, iron-rich dirt, mud left to dry.
    – person27
    Mar 17, 2019 at 19:01
  • 3
    @JanusBahsJacquet as a native brit I have never thought of the sides of the hands and feet as a particular place that dirt builds up - so I think you might struggle to find a word that is specific to those places. However if dirt did build up there it would almost certainly be ingrained grime.
    – Ben
    Mar 17, 2019 at 23:22

Children who have been playing in mud or dirt are usually accused of having grubby hands and/or feet. However this doesn't just refer to the sides of said extremities.

Picture showing grubby hands.

enter image description here

  • Yes, I did think of that, but as you say, it describes the hands as a whole and is generally quite easily washed off – the stuff I’m talking about on the sides is the stuff that tends to get missed in regular hand-washing and thus builds up until it requires actual scrubbing to get rid of. Mar 17, 2019 at 13:56
  • 1
    I can think of various approximations, e.g. "grime" and "grimy". Mar 17, 2019 at 14:02

This is sometimes called deep dirt in the body-cleansing biz.

... water ... and a good exfoliating soap ... an acid wash for deep dirt.

  • 2
    @Lordology: It refers to the dirt that collects in calluses, not to the calluses themselves. If you'll read a little closer, it says deep dirt in calluses If you're going to reject an answer, support your claims. Your beliefs are not relevant.
    – TimR
    Mar 17, 2019 at 16:32
  • 2
    @Lordology: That you cannot find it is of little consequence. Not everything can be found on the internet. In American commercial culture relating to cleanliness, of the house, of clothes, and of the body, the phrase deep dirt has been around since at least the mid 20th century. It is used of the dirt that gets ground into linoleum floor covering, into children's clothing, and most recently of dirt that settles deep in the pores of the skin and in calluses. It is a phrase that has been adapted to the body from those domains much like OP's gravrust has.
    – TimR
    Mar 17, 2019 at 16:52
  • OK. I am not as familiar with American culture anyway!
    – Lordology
    Mar 17, 2019 at 17:00
  • +1. I’ve never heard of this before, but it looks like it comes pretty close what gravrust actually is, though it seems to be technical rather than colloquial (and also to be based on slightly different criteria). It probably wouldn’t be a good translation of the Danish word in context (from what I’ve read so far, a parent would be unlikely to say, “Go back and wash ’em again, you’ve still got deep dirt on the sides there!” to their children), but it is at least a word that describes something very close to the same thing, objectively speaking. Mar 17, 2019 at 17:31
  • @JanusBahsJacquet But the parent could say "Make sure you scrub well to get the deep dirt."
    – TimR
    Mar 17, 2019 at 21:11

crud comes to mind.

a substance which is considered unpleasant or disgusting, typically because of its dirtiness.

In my mind this has connotations to 'bodily muck' -- moreover, ODO gives the example:

Use a good soap compound to remove accumulated crud.

Oxford Dictionaries.

If you're looking for a more long-term phrase, there's always build-up you could add.
See the title of this document.

  • I agree that crud describes ‘bodily muck’, and has added overtones of caking, but like Chasly’s answer, it is less specific and can equally well refer to dirt anywhere else on the body. I’ve added in a clarifying edit to the question to describe more accurately what sets the specific notion I’m talking about apart from general words for dirt. Mar 17, 2019 at 14:26
  • Crud (and crust, surely related) describes it pretty well, because that's what callus is, and the dirt certainly doesn't help it. However, I can't picture children with hard worn, rugged hands, and I can't imagine the convex parts of a soft hand being easy to miss in washing. grit would be a step up from crud if bloody wounds come into play after too much scrubbing.
    – vectory
    Mar 17, 2019 at 20:02
  • @vectory Indeed.
    – Lordology
    Mar 17, 2019 at 20:02
  • @vectory The lateral edges of the hands are easier to miss when washing because they require the most torsion to reach. This isn’t a problem for adults in general, because we’ve learnt the proper twisting technique, but children, especially smaller children, often tend to wash their hands with simpler movements until they master the right movements. The palm and back of the hand are both reachable with no forearm rotation and the medial edge with slight pronation (the easiest rotation), but the lateral edges require a more significant amount of supination. Mar 18, 2019 at 0:07

Schmutz - Yiddish Dirt, crud, grime that can be rubbed off our skin.

  • 1
    That's not the usual definition. It's any kind of grime. But it certainly a good suggestion for the OP.
    – Mitch
    Mar 17, 2019 at 21:36

accumulated dirt = encrusted.

Specifically, on the lateral sides of your fingers? That's going to need some creative writing.

"His palms were seemingly clean because he had been working out all day, but were however otherwise encrusted with filth."

  • Also, use Castile bar soap and you won't have that problem.
    – Mazura
    Mar 17, 2019 at 23:56

Interesting to note that an image search for "grimy hands" almost universally shows clean hands with clean nails and evenly applied dirt, or even dirt applied only to protruding parts of the pads, rather than ground-in grime in the joints, around fingernails, between fingers and around the palm. I get the feeling modern photographers and hand models know nothing about grime :D

My father, one time, spent several minutes each morning trying to clean my neck and behind my ears. It was engrimed with a ring of dark dirt. He would have me stand over the sink and assiduously try to scrub it off, as had his mother before him: he reasoned that kids get grime behind their ears, it is known, and as they cannot see to clean it, so their parents must do it for them.

Eventually, he sheepishly realized it wasn't grime... just the remains of my summer tan!

The term he used for this phenomenon as he tried to clean it, was tidemark or tideline.

This is used in any situation where a line of dirt or debris is left, especially from water action:

The dark line created by drying liquid, at the farthest point of liquid migration in the paper or board. The line itself is dirt transported by the liquid; the dirt embeds itself deeply into the paper fibres becoming tenacious and difficult to remove. -- http://www.art-conservation.org/?page_id=1189

A related term is ring-around-the-collar, though this more typically means a ring of dirt embedded into the clothes, than the neck; and either way couldn't apply to the hand or foot.

However, I think what you are referring to may instead be the thick layer of dead skin around the foot and hand: that is, the things that pumice stones are sold to remove. These areas of thick skin are called a "callus".

  • 1
    Tidemark is quite good – same sort of feel to it as gravrust. +1 for that! Calluses are a different thing, though, called simply ‘hard skin’ by the Danes – highly unimaginative, but definitely not the same as gravrust. Jan 9, 2020 at 20:11

I simply have no concept of this gravrust that you describe so well. It seems from the other answers that nobody else does either! Except, presumably, your fellow Danes. We non-Danes can't imagine why dirt would collect on the sides of our hands and feet like this. It seems unlikely that there is a genetic element involved.

This may be an example of the Sapir-Whorf Hypothesis in action: we have no word for it, therefore it doesn't exist in our minds. Here is an apposite extract from the linked PowerPoint presentation:

In linguistics, the Sapir-Whorf Hypothesis states that there are certain thoughts of an individual in one language that cannot be understood by those who live in another language.

In other words, we are baffled by your gravrust because of the limitations of our language.

Another explanation is possible: that it doesn't exist in our minds, therefore we have no word for it. I don't know what this hypothesis is called; if it were up to me, it would be the Whorf-Sapir Hypothesis.


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