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Alternative forms[edit]


From Middle English scum, scome, skum, skome, scumme, from Middle Dutch schūme (foam), from Proto-Germanic *skūmaz (froth, foam), from Proto-Indo-European *skew- (to cover, conceal). Cognate with Dutch schuim (foam), German Schaum (foam), Danish and Swedish skum (foam). Compare also French écume (scum), Italian schiuma (foam), Walloon schome (scum, foam), Lithuanian šamas (catfish) and skanus (tasty) from the same Germanic source. Related to skim.


  • IPA(key): /skʌm/
  • (file)
  • Rhymes: -ʌm


scum (countable and uncountable, plural scums)

  1. (uncountable) A layer of impurities that accumulates at the surface of a liquid (especially molten metal or water).
    Synonyms: dross, impurity, impurities, cinder, scoriae, slag
    During smelting, scum rises to the surface and is then removed by the smelter.
  2. (uncountable) A greenish water vegetation (such as algae), usually found floating on the surface of ponds
    These organisms form scum in large quantities.
  3. The topmost liquid layer of a cesspool or septic tank.
  4. (uncountable, slang, chiefly US) Semen. [from 1960s]
    Synonyms: see Thesaurus:semen
  5. (derogatory, slang) A reprehensible person or persons.
    Synonyms: bastard; see also Thesaurus:jerk
    People who sell used-up pens are scum, just total low-lives.

Derived terms[edit]



scum (third-person singular simple present scums, present participle scumming, simple past and past participle scummed)

  1. To remove the layer of scum from (a liquid etc.).
  2. To remove (something) as scum.
  3. To become covered with scum.
    • 1769, Elizabeth Raffald, The Experienced English House-keeper, pp.321-322:
      Take the smallest Cucumbers you can get, and as free from Spots as possible, put them into a strong Salt and Water for nine or ten Days, or 'till they are quite Yellow, and stir them twice a Day at least, or they will scum over, and grow soft
  4. (obsolete) To scour (the land, sea etc.).
    • 1485, Sir Thomas Malory, “xiij”, in Le Morte Darthur, book I:
      SOo by Merlyns aduys ther were sente fore rydars to skumme the Countreye / & they mette with the fore rydars of the north / and made hem to telle whiche wey the hooste cam / and thenne they told it to Arthur / and by kyng Ban and Bors counceill they lete brenne and destroye alle the contrey afore them there they shold ryde
      (please add an English translation of this quote)
    • 1670, John Milton, “(please specify the page)”, in The History of Britain, that Part Especially now Call’d England. [], London: [] J[ohn] M[acock] for James Allestry, [] , OCLC 946735472:
      Wandering up and down without certain seat, they lived by scumming those seas and shores as pirates.
  5. (obsolete) To gather together, as scum.
    • 1815, Rudolf Ackerman and Frederic Shoberl, The Repository of Arts, Literature, Commerce, Manufactures, Fashions and Politics:
      A great majority of the members are scummed together from the Jacobinical dregs of former periods of the revolution.
  6. (video games, informal) To startscum or savescum.