There's a belief that the term scab, referring to a non-union worker who crosses a picket line, was called such because it's an acronym meaning, variously, "Still Collecting All Benefits" or "Still Can Afford Beer".

This is not the case. Calling a non-unionized strike breaker a scab goes back to the 19th century. Initially scabs were workers who simply refused to join a union and they were considered despicable people. For about 300 years previous, scab simply referred to a despicable person. As labor laws changed, allowing unions to force out all non unionized workers for a given trade, scab came to refer to only non-unionized replacement workers brought in during a strike.

It's interesting to note that the scab (as in the original meaning... a crust that forms over a wound) goes back to the Old English term for scab which was sceabb . Some pronunciations of sceabb sounded like "shab". From this the modern English term "shabby" was derived.
"Gimme a crisp ya bollix!"
"Feck off ya scab."
"Ahh, go on..."
"No. Go and buy your own crisps."
"Scabby bastard ya."

Sound familiar? No? Growing up in Ireland, "scab" was a phrase often used to describe the process of obtaining goods or services from a fellow school chum or sibling for free. For example, if I pulled out a packet of Tayto Cheese & Onion crisps (like, Potato Chips, or whatEVER) in the playground at lunchtime, a fellow classmate may ask me if he can have a crisp. By doing this, he would be "scabbing" off me. I would then be in a position to either give him a crisp or call him a "scab" or a "scabby bastard". After some time, the person with the crisps would usually relent and hand over some of the delicious, salty goodness.

However, and this is where even I get confused, if the person with the crisps refused to hand over any of their snack, then the scab would be in a position to take the hump and call the person with the crisps a "scabby bastard" because he wouldn't share. "You're such a scab" or "ya scabby gipsy, give us a crisp, hey" would then be an appropriate response. The exchange would usually end there, or, if things got a little heated, there could be a claim(fight/scrap/rucus).

Sounds confusing, but it made sense at the time.


Having just confirmed with my nephew, the Scab System is still in place in the playgrounds of Ireland.

BlakJak says re scab: In Australia, we too use the word scab in this way. Substitute the Irish idiomatic phrases for Australian idiomatic phrases, and it's totally the same thing.

Scab (skab), n. [OE. scab, scabbe, shabbe; cf. AS. scæb, sceabb, scebb, Dan. & Sw. skab, and also L. scabies, fr. scabere to scratch, akin to E. shave. See Shave, and cf. Shab, Shabby.]

1.

An incrustation over a sore, wound, vesicle, or pustule, formed by the drying up of the discharge from the diseased part.

2.

The itch in man; also, the scurvy. [Colloq. or Obs.]

3.

The mange, esp. when it appears on sheep. Chaucer.

4.

A disease of potatoes producing pits in their surface, caused by a minute fungus (Tiburcinia Scabies).

5. (Founding)

A slight irregular protuberance which defaces the surface of a casting, caused by the breaking away of a part of the mold.

6.

A mean, dirty, paltry fellow. [Low] Shak.

7.

A nickname for a workman who engages for lower wages than are fixed by the trades unions; also, for one who takes the place of a workman on a strike. [Cant]

 

© Webster 1913


Scab, v. i. [imp. & p. p. Scabbed (?); p. pr. & vb. n. Scabbing.]

To become covered with a scab; as, the wound scabbed over.

 

© Webster 1913


Scab, n. (Bot.)

Any one of various more or less destructive fungus diseases attacking cultivated plants, and usually forming dark-colored crustlike spots.

 

© Webster 1913

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