- from Late Latin drappus (“drabcloth, kerchief; piece of cloth”), most likely from Gaulish *drappo, from Proto-Indo-European *drep- (“to scratch, tear”); or
- from Frankish *drapi, *drāpi (“that which is fulled, drabcloth”), from Proto-Germanic *drap-, *drēp- (“something beaten”), from *drepaną (“to beat, strike”), from Proto-Indo-European *dʰrebʰ- (“to beat, crush; to make or become thick”).
The English word is cognate with Ancient Greek δρέπω (drépō, “to pluck”), Avestan 𐬛𐬭𐬀𐬟𐬱𐬀 (drafša, “banner, flag”), Lithuanian drãpanos (“household linens”), Old Norse trefja (“to rub, wear out”), trof (“fringes”), Sanskrit द्रापि (drāpi, “mantle, gown”), Serbo-Croatian drápati (“to scratch, scrape”)).
- A fabric, usually of thick cotton or wool, having a dull brownish yellow, dull grey, or dun colour.
- Synonym: drabcloth
- 1786, “Letter X”, in Examinator’s Letters, or, A Mirror for British Monopolists and Irish Financiers, Dublin: Printed, and sold by the booksellers, OCLC 225275990, pages 41–42:
- John Hanſell, of Bridport, in Dorſetſhire, ſail-cloth manufacturer, ſtates in his evidence, that the ſale of coarſe woollen cloath was not then a twentieth part of what it had been for the common people formerly, owing to their ſubſtituting Ruſſia drabs and ravenſduck as garments in place of the coarſe woollens.
- The colour of this fabric.
- 1794 October 31, John Dalton, “Extraordinary Facts Relating to the Vision of Colours: With Observations”, in Memoirs of the Literary and Philosophical Society of Manchester, volume V, part 1, Manchester: Printed by George Nicholson for Cadell and Davies, published 1798, OCLC 1039112623, page 36:
- Most of the colours called drabs appear to me the same by day-light and candle-light.
- 1838 February 17, Mrs. Howitt, “The Friends’ Family”, in William and Robert Chambers, editors, Chambers’s Edinburgh Journal, volume VII, number 316, Edinburgh: Published, […], by W[illiam] S[omerville] Orr and Co., […], published 1839, OCLC 4167154, page 25, column 2:
- [T]he carpet is a Brussels, of rather a small pattern, in various shades of greens and drabs.
- 1854, Thomas Love, “To Dye Silk Drabs in the Lavender Vat Different Ways”, in The Art of Cleaning, Dyeing, Scouring, and Finishing, on the Most Approved English and French Methods. […], London: Longman, Brown, Green, and Longmans, […], OCLC 156146025, part I (The Art of Cleaning and Dyeing Silk), page 78:
- Let your light drabs be next. Do not put anything in your liquor after your greys, except a pint of this ebony liquor; stir it up well, and handle in your silks for light drab for twenty minutes, and they are done; [...] The next drab you dye in the vat is a dark stone drab.
- 1868, Louisa M[ay] Alcott, “The Laurence Boy”, in Little Women: Or, Meg, Jo, Beth and Amy, part first, Boston, Mass.: Roberts Brothers, published 1869, OCLC 30743985, pages 42–43:
- They looked very well in their simple suits, Meg in silvery drab, with a blue velvet snood, lace frills, and the pearl pin; Jo in maroon, with a stiff, gentlemanly linen collar, and a white chrysanthemum or two for her only ornament.
- 1920, Carl Sandburg, “The Sins of Kalamazoo”, in Smoke and Steel, New York, N.Y.: Harcourt, Brace and Howe, OCLC 1117522934, page 49:
- The sins of Kalamazoo are neither scarlet nor crimson. / The sins of Kalamazoo are a convict gray, a dishwater drab. / And the people who sin the sins of Kalamazoo are neither scarlet nor crimson. / They run to drabs and grays—and some of them sing they shall be washed whiter than snow—and some: We should worry.
- Often in the plural form drabs: apparel, especially trousers, made from this fabric.
- 1771, [Henry Mackenzie], “He Makes a Second Expedition to the Baronet’s. […]”, in The Man of Feeling, 2nd edition, London: Printed for T[homas] Cadell, […], OCLC 1103022800, page 45:
- He wore a pretty large wig, which had once been white, but was now of a browniſh yellow; his coat was one of thoſe modeſt-coloured drabs which mock the injuries of duſt and dirt; [...]
- 1860 September, J. Crawford Wilson, “Brutus”, in Frank Leslie’s Monthly, volume VII, number 3, New York, N.Y.: [Frank Leslie] Publication Office, 19, City Hall Square, OCLC 18534370, page 237, column 1:
- [T]o please her he promised to lay aside the universal drabs for the wedding day and to case his extremities in modern black cloth continuations, with an express stipulation that the drabs should again be in active service on the subsequent morning.
- 1907 October, Jane Armstrong, “Woman Architect who Helped Build the Fairmont Hotel”, in The Architect and Engineer of California, volume X, number 3, San Francisco; Los Angeles, Calif.: Architect & Engineer Co., OCLC 228680284, page 70:
- I knew that Julia Morgan was a Beaux Arts graduate, and through my mind there trooped a bizarre procession of girls who have studied one thing or another in Paris. They usually come home dressed in a color scheme of the impressionistic school, with their talent merely a by-product of a wonderful new set of mannerisms and a novel and fuzzy way of doing their hair. Yet here was a young woman dressed in drab and severely hair pinned.
- (by extension) A dull or uninteresting appearance or situation, unremarkable.
- 1867 December 12, Charles Dickens; Wilkie Collins, “No Thoroughfare”, in Charles Dickens, editor, All The Year Round: Extra Christmas Number, London: Chapman & Hall, […], OCLC 541246580, Act I, page 3, column 2:
- The slimy little causeway had dropped into the river by a slow process of suicide, and two or three stumps of piles and a rusty iron mooring-ring were all that remained of the departed Break-Neck glories. [...] [T]hrough three-fourths of its rising tides the dirty indecorous drab of a river would come solitarily oozing and lapping at the rusty ring, [...]
- 2018 December 23, Lucy Mangan, “WatershipDown review - CGI rabbits can't save this Christmas turkey”, in The Guardian:
- Watership Down review – CGI rabbits can't save this Christmas turkey. The 1970s cartoon traumatised generations of children, but the new version is tame, drab and deeply unsatisfying. What, really, was the point?
- 2019 April 5, Joseph Lee, “Drab London office block was GCHQ spy base”, in BBC:
- A drab office block sandwiched between a pub and a branch of Starbucks was a secret base of spy agency GCHQ, it has been confirmed. The anonymous building opposite St James's Park Tube station in central London was used by British spooks for 66 years.
- Of the colour of some types of drabcloth: dull brownish yellow or dun.
- 1857, George Eliot [pseudonym; Mary Ann Evans], “[Mr Gilfil’s Love-story.] Chapter II”, in Scenes of Clerical Life [...] In Two Volumes, volume I, Edinburgh; London: William Blackwood and Sons, published January 1858, OCLC 977572916, page 190:
- The coffee presently appeared, brought not as usual by the footman, in scarlet and drab, but by the old butler, in threadbare but well-brushed black, [...]
- (by extension) Particularly of colour: dull, uninteresting.
- 1768, Mr. Yorick [pseudonym; Laurence Sterne], “The Mystery. Paris.”, in A Sentimental Journey through France and Italy, volume II, London: […] T. Becket and P. A. De Hondt, […], OCLC 61680753, page 104:
- [T]he man was about fifty-two—had a ſmall cane under his arm—was dreſs'd in a dark drab-colour'd coat, waiſtcoat, and breeches, which ſeem'd to have seen ſome years ſervice—they were ſtill clean, and there was a little air of frugal propretè throughout him.
- 1869 December, [Rhoda Broughton], “Red as a Rose is She”, in Temple Bar: A London Magazine for Town and Country Readers, volume XXVIII, London: Richard Bentley, […]; New York, N.Y.: Willmer and Rogers, published March 1870, OCLC 177729571, chapter XXXI, page 11:
- Year by year they will find her with even thinner hair, sharper shoulders, drabber cheeks; and he, looking upon her with the forgiveness of complete indifference, will say to himself, "She is bad, and she is ugly; I was well rid of her!"
- 1914, Eunice Tietjens, “The Steam Shovel”, in Harriet Monroe and Alice Corbin Henderson, editors, The New Poetry: An Anthology, New York, N.Y.: The Macmillan Company, published February 1917 (March–April 1917 printing), lines 29-35, page 342:
- Have you no longing ever to be free? / In warm, electric days to run a-muck, / Ranging like some mad dinosaur, / Your fiery heart at war / With this strange world, the city's restless ruck, / Where all drab things that toil, save you alone, / Have life; [...]
- 1923 April, Harold Steevens, “The Duplicate Cheque”, in [Herbert Greenhough Smith], editor, The Strand Magazine: An Illustrated Monthly, volume LXV, London: George Newnes, Ltd., […], OCLC 1006315258, page 345, column 1:
- The more he basked in golden dreams the drabber seemed his humdrum life behind the bank counter.
- 1997, Carl Dennis, “Sarit Narai”, in Robert Pack and Jay Parini, editors, Introspections: American Poets on One of Their Own Poems, Hanover, N.H.; London: Middlebury College Press; published by University Press of New England, →ISBN, pages 59–60:
- And what if your daughter admires him even more / And comes to choose him for her life's companion, / Not the drab complainer she ended up with.
The origin of the noun is uncertain; compare Middle English drabelen, drablen, draplen (“to soil; make dirty; to drag on the ground or through mud”), and Low German drabbe (“dirt, mud”), drabbeln (“to soil”), and Old Norse drabba (“to make drab; make dirty”), the latter three ultimately from Proto-Germanic *drepaną (“to hit, strike”), from Proto-Indo-European *dʰreb- (“to crush, grind; to kill”). The word is also likely to be related to Dutch drab (“dregs, sediment”), Irish drabog, Scottish Gaelic drabag (“dirty woman; slattern”).
The verb is derived from the noun.
drab (plural drabs)
- (dated) A dirty or untidy woman; a slattern.
- 1593, Gabriel Harvey, Pierces Supererogation: Or A New Prayse of the Old Asse, London: […] Iohn Wolfe, OCLC 165778203; republished as John Payne Collier, editor, Pierces Supererogation: Or A New Prayse of the Old Asse. A Preparative to Certaine Larger Discourses, Intituled Nashes S. Fame (Miscellaneous Tracts. Temp. Eliz. & Jac. I; no. 8), [London: [s.n.], 1870], OCLC 23963073, page 150:
- [C]ertainly thou deſireſt but thy right, that canſt read a rhetorique, or logique lecture to Hecuba in the art of raving, and inſtruct Tiſiphone herſelfe in her owne gnaſhing language. Other he, or ſhe, drabs of the curſteſt or vengeableſt rankes, are but dipped or dyed in the art; not ſuch a belldam in the whole kingdome of frogges, as thy croking, and moſt clamorous ſelfe.
- 1607, W. S. [attributed to Thomas Middleton or William Shakespeare (doubtful)], The Pvritaine. Or The VViddovv of Watling-streete. […], imprinted at London: By G[eorge] Eld, OCLC 81461068, Act I:
- [O]ld Lad of War; thou that were wont to be as hot as a turn-ſpit, as nimble as a fencer, & as lowzy as a ſchoole-maiſter; now thou art put to ſilence like a Secretarie? [...] who are your centinells in peace and ſtand ready charg'd to giue warning; with hems, hums, & pockey-coffs; only your Chambers are licenc'ſt to play vpon you, and Drabs enow to giue fire to 'em.
- 1660, James Hovvell [i.e., James Howell], “Diharebion Cymraeg, VVedu ei Cysiethu yn Saisoneg = British, or Old Cambrian Proverbs, and Cymraecan Adages, Never Englished, (and Divers Never Published) before. […]”, in Lexicon Tetraglotton, an English–French–Italian–Spanish Dictionary: […], Printed by J[ohn] G[rismond] for Samuel Thomson […], OCLC 223156151, page 20:
- As ſtiff as a drabs diſtaff.
- 1871, George Eliot [pseudonym; Mary Ann Evans], chapter XI, in Middlemarch: A Study of Provincial Life, volume I, Edinburgh; London: William Blackwood and Sons, OCLC 948783829, book I (Miss Brooke), page 164:
- Old provincial society had [...] its brilliant young professional dandies who ended by living up an entry with a drab and six children for their establishment, [...]
- 1956, J. J. Marric [pseudonym; John Creasey], “Father and Son”, in Gideon’s Week, London: Hodder & Stoughton, OCLC 1377060, page 154; republished in Gideon at Work: Three Complete Novels: Gideon’s Day, Gideon’s Week, Gideon’s Night, New York, N.Y.: Harper & Brothers, publishers, 1957, OCLC 1303091, page 250:
- The doss house emptied during the day; from ten o'clock until five or six in the evening, there was no one there except Mulliver, a drab who did some of the cleaning for him, and occasional visitors.
- (dated) A promiscuous woman, a slut; a prostitute.
- 1580, Thomas Tusser, “74. A Digression.”, in Fiue Hundred Pointes of Good Husbandrie: […], London: […] Henrie Denham [beeing the assigne of William Seres] […], OCLC 837741850; republished as W[illiam] Payne and Sidney J[ohn Hervon] Herrtage, editors, Five Hundred Pointes of Good Husbandrie. […], London: Published for the English Dialect Society by Trübner & Co., […], 1878, OCLC 7391867535, stanza 4, page 166:
- c. 1602, William Shakespeare, The Famous Historie of Troylus and Cresseid. […] (First Quarto), London: […] G[eorge] Eld for R[ichard] Bonian and H[enry] Walley, […], published 1609, OCLC 951696502, [Act V, scene i], lines 93–95:
- 1611 December 27 (first performance), Io[hn] Cooke, Greenes Tu Quoque, or, The Cittie Gallant. […], printed at London: [By Nicholas Okes] for Iohn Trundle, published 1614, OCLC 606495627:
- Experience ſhewes, his Purſe ſhall ſoone grow light, / Whom Dice waſtes in the day, Drabs in the night: / Let all auoyde falſe Strumpets, Dice, and Drinke; / For hee that leaps in Mudde, ſhall quickly ſinke.
- 1735, Alexander Pope, “[Satires of Dr. John Donne, Dean of St. Paul’s.] The Second Satire of Dr. John Donne.”, in The Works of Mr. Alexander Pope, volume II, London: […] J. Wright, for Lawton Gilliver […], OCLC 43265629, lines 63–64, page 49:
- Curs'd be the Wretch! ſo venal and ſo vain; / Paltry and proud, as drabs in Drury-lane.
- a. 1775, Oliver Goldsmith, “A Description of an Author’s Bed-chamber”, in Poems and Plays. […], new corrected edition, London: Printed for Messrs. Price [et al.], published 1785, OCLC 1016221269, page 10:
- Where the Red Lion ſtaring o'er the way, / Invites each paſſing ſtranger that can pay; / Where Calvert’s butt, and Parſon’s black champaign, / Regale the drabs and bloods of Drury-lane; [...]
- (intransitive, obsolete) To consort with prostitutes; to whore.
- c. 1599–1602, William Shake-speare, The Tragicall Historie of Hamlet, Prince of Denmarke: […] (First Quarto), London: […] N[icholas] L[ing] and Iohn Trundell, published 1603, OCLC 84758312, [Act II, scene i]:
- You may ſay, you ſaw him at ſuch a time, marke you mee, / At game, or drincking, ſwearing, or drabbing, / You may go ſo farre.
- 1720, [John] Dennis, The Invader of His Country: Or, The Fatal Resentment. A Tragedy. […], London: Printed for J. Pemberton […], and J. Watts […]; and sold by J. Brotherton and W. Meadows […]; T. Jauncy and A. Dodd […]; W. Lewis […], and J. Graves […], OCLC 976800376, Act II, scene iii, page 24:
- Very fine! This Sempronius is a bleſſed Perſon indeed! he Games, he Cheats, he Swears, he Drinks, he Drabs; [...]
- 1901, [George] Bernard Shaw, “Three Plays for Puritans”, in Three Plays for Puritans: The Devil’s Disciple, Cæsar and Cleopatra, & Captain Brassbound’s Conversion, London: Grant Richards, […], OCLC 122594195, page xxix:
- Let realism have its demonstration, comedy its criticism, or even bawdry its horselaugh at the expense of sexual infatuation, if it must; but to ask us to subject our souls to its ruinous glamour, to worship it, deify it, and imply that it alone makes our life worth living, is nothing but folly gone mad erotically—a thing compared to which Falstaff's unbeglamored drinking and drabbing is respectable and rightminded.
- 1907, Justin Huntly McCarthy, “A Lull in the Storm”, in Needles and Pins, London: Hurst and Blackett Limited […], OCLC 10478497, pages 78–79:
- He did not relish the apparition of that Katherine, for when it appeared it seemed to bring with it a brother shadow that wore ragged clothes and tangled hair and foul linen; that drank from any flagon and drabbed with any doxy; that slept in tavern angles through hours of drunkenness; a thing whose fingers pillaged, filched and pilfered when and where they could; a creature that once he saw whenever he stared into a mirror.
Probably related to drop (“small mass of liquid”).
drab (plural drabs)
- A small amount, especially of money.
- a. 1746, Jonathan Swift; Thomas Sheridan, compiler, “VII. Another, Written upon a Window where there was No Writing before.”, in The Works of the Rev. Jonathan Swift, D.D., Dean of St. Patrick’s, Dublin. […] In Nineteen Volumes, volume VII, new corrected and revised edition, London: Printed [by Nichols and Son] for J[oseph] Johnson [et al.], published 1801, OCLC 6772664, page 361:
- Thanks to my stars, I once can see / A window here from scribbling free! / Here no conceited coxcombs pass, / To scratch their paltry drabs on glass; / Nor party-fool is calling names, / Or dealing crowns to George and James.
- 1823, William Cobbett, “Brewing Beer”, in Cottage Economy: […], new edition, London: Printed for J. M. Cobbett, […], OCLC 1015431964, paragraph 30:
- The tea drinking has done a great deal in bringing this nation into the state [of] misery in which it now is; and the tea drinking, which is carried on by "dribs" and "drabs;" by pence and farthings going out at a time; this miserable practice has been gradually introduced by the growing weight of the taxes on Malt and on Hops, and by the everlasting penury amongst the labourers, occasioned by the paper-money.
drab (plural drabs)
- A box used in a saltworks for holding the salt when taken out of the boiling pans.
- 1748, William Brownrigg, “Of the Use of Salt as a Condiment or Pickle”, in The Art of Making Common Salt, as Now Practised in Most Parts of the World; with Several Improvements Proposed in that Art, for the Use of the British Dominions, London: Printed, and sold by C. Davis, […]; A[ndrew] Millar, […]; and R[obert] Dodsley, […], OCLC 753419711, part II (The Art of Preparing White Salt: Appendix):
- Thoſe therefore, who are moſt exact in pickling beef for exportation, [...] take their carcaſſes as ſoon as cold, and cut them into proper pieces; and after rubbing each piece carefully with good white ſalt, lay them on heaps in a cool cellar, in a drab with a ſhelving bottom, where they remain for four or five days, 'till the blood hath drained out of the larger veſſels.
- 1765, Temple Henry Croker; Thomas Williams; Samuel Clark, “SALT”, in The Complete Dictionary of Arts and Sciences. In which the Whole Circle of Human Learning is Explained. […], volume II, London: Printed for the authors, and sold by J. Wilson & J. Fell, […], OCLC 642390223:
- When the ſalt is carried into the ſtore-houſe, it is put into drabs, which are partitions, like ſtalls for horſes, lined at three ſides, and the bottom with boards, and having a ſliding-board on the foreſide to draw up on occaſion. The bottoms are made ſhelving, being higheſt at the back, and gradually inclining forwards; by this means the brine, remaining among the ſalt, eaſily ſeparates and runs from it, and the ſalt in three or four days becomes ſufficiently dry; [...]
- 1819, Abraham Rees, “SALT”, in The Cyclopædia; or, Universal Dictionary of Arts, Sciences, and Literature. [...] In Thirty-nine Volumes, volume XXXI, London: Printed for Longman, Hurst, Rees, Orme, & Brown [et al.], OCLC 44125067:
- In both caſes they let the ſalt remain in the pan till the whole is finiſhed; then they rake it out with wooden rakes, and after it has drained a-while in wooden drabs, it is fit for uſe. The mother-brine, of which there always remains a large quantity in the pan after the ſtrong ſalt is made, as alſo the drainings of the drabs where the ſalt is put, is reſerved to be boiled up into table-ſalt; [...]
- 1857 August, W[illia]m C. Dennis, “Salt—Its Uses and Manufacture—Salt Meats. An Inquiry into the Defects of Common Salt in General Use in the United States for Curing Provisions, and on the Subject of Careless Packing and Management of Meats, etc, with Some Hints as to a Remedy”, in J[ames] D[unwoody] B[rownson] De Bow, editor, De Bow’s Review and Industrial Resources, Statistics, etc.: […], volume III (New Series; volume XXIII overall), New Orleans, La.; Washington, D.C.: [J. D. B. De Bow], OCLC 9332366, page 135:
- The Liverpool salt is made from the impure article that is found in the mines of Cheshire, which is transported in vast quantities down the River Mersey, and is dissolved in seawater on the left bank at extensive manufactories opposite to Liverpool. This impure pickle is drawn from the tanks, in which it is dissolved, into large shallow pans, and by a rapid process of boiling it is crystalized—drawn from the pans—the salt placed in drabs or baskets to drain, ready for another charge within 24 hours, except on Sundays; the charge in the pans is allowed 48 hours to crystalize and be drawn.
- (LGBT, slang) An instance of a transgender or non-binary person presenting as the gender corresponding to their sex assigned at birth instead of that corresponding to their internal gender identity (for instance, a trans woman dressed as a man).
- 2012 November 1, Jocelyn Samara D., “Comic 278 - Ch. 12 - Drab”, in Rain, archived from the original on 21 January 2020, retrieved 21 February 2021:
- Just for those who may not be aware of the term, “drab” is how you might describe a transgendered person (including transsexuals, crossdressers, drag queens, etc.) that is presenting as their birth sex. For instance, if Rain is dressed as a boy, she is dressed in “drab”. My original idea had Ruby on this page too, but that took away from the “drab” theme.
In this sense, drab usually (though not always) refers to a trans woman presenting as a man.
- ^ “drab, n.2, adj., and n.”, in OED Online , Oxford, Oxfordshire: Oxford University Press, 1897; “drab1, adj. and n.”, in Lexico, Dictionary.com; Oxford University Press, 2019–present.
- ^ Walter W[illiam] Skeat (1910) , “DRAB (2)”, in An Etymological Dictionary of the English Language, new (4th) revised and enlarged edition, Oxford, Oxfordshire: At the Clarendon Press, published 1963, OCLC 713911278, page 181, column 1.
- ^ See, for example, the Vita Caesaris Arelatis (6th century): see Jean-Paul Savignac (2004) , “drap”, in Dictionnaire français-gaulois, Paris: Editions la Différence, →ISBN, page 123.
- ^ Robert K. Barnhart, editor (2003) , “drab”, in Chambers Dictionary of Etymology, Edinburgh: Chambers, →ISBN.
- ^ Xavier Delamarre (2001) , “drappo”, in Dictionnaire de la langue gauloise : une approche linguistique du vieux-celtique continental, Paris: Errance, →ISBN.
- ^ “drabelen, v.”, in MED Online, Ann Arbor, Mich.: University of Michigan, 2007.
- ^ “drab, n.1”, in OED Online , Oxford, Oxfordshire: Oxford University Press, 1897; “drab2, n.”, in Lexico, Dictionary.com; Oxford University Press, 2019–present.
- ^ “drab, v.”, in OED Online , Oxford, Oxfordshire: Oxford University Press, 1897.
drab n (singular definite drabet, plural indefinite drab)
drab m pers
- → Russian: драп (drap, “marijuana”)