from The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, 4th Edition

  • n. Any of various predominantly marine crustaceans of the division Brachyura within the order Decapoda, characterized by a broad flattened cephalothorax covered by a hard carapace with a small abdomen concealed beneath it, short antennae, and five pairs of legs, of which the anterior pair are large and pincerlike.
  • n. Any of various similar related crustaceans, such as the hermit crab or king crab.
  • n. A horseshoe crab.
  • n. A crab louse.
  • n. Slang Infestation by crab lice.
  • n. The maneuvering of an aircraft partially into a crosswind to compensate for drift.
  • n. A machine for handling or hoisting heavy weights.
  • intransitive v. To hunt or catch crabs.
  • intransitive v. To scurry sideways in the manner of a crab.
  • intransitive v. To drift diagonally or sideways, especially when under tow.
  • intransitive v. To direct an aircraft into a crosswind.
  • transitive v. To direct (an aircraft) partly into a crosswind to eliminate drift.
  • transitive v. To cause to move or scurry sideways.
  • idiom catch a crab To make a faulty stroke in rowing that causes the blade of the oar to strike the water on the recovery stroke.
  • n. A crab apple tree or its fruit.
  • n. A quarrelsome, ill-tempered person.
  • intransitive v. Informal To find fault; criticize someone or something.
  • transitive v. Informal To interfere with and ruin; spoil.
  • transitive v. Informal To find fault with; complain about.
  • transitive v. To make ill-tempered or sullen.

from Wiktionary, Creative Commons Attribution/Share-Alike License

  • n. A crustacean of the infraorder Brachyura, having five pairs of legs, the foremost of which are in the form of claws, and a carapace.
  • n. A bad-tempered person.
  • n. An infestation of pubic lice.
  • n. A playing card with the rank of three.
  • n. Short for carabiner.
  • n. A position in rowing where the oar is pushed under the rigger by the force of the water.
  • n. A defect in an outwardly normal object that may render it inconvenient and troublesome to use.
  • v. To fish for crabs.
  • v. To ruin.
  • v. To complain.
  • v. (by analogy with the movement of a crab) To move sideways of an aircraft, such as a glider.
  • v. (by analogy with the movement of a crab) To navigate (an aircraft, e.g. a glider) sideways against an air current in order to maintain a straight-line course.
  • v. , to fly slightly off the straight-line course towards an enemy aircraft, as the machine guns on early aircraft did not allow firing through the propeller disk.
  • v. To back out of something.
  • n. The crab apple or wild apple.
  • n. The tree bearing crab apples, which has a dogbane-like bitter bark with medical use.
  • v. To irritate, make surly or sour
  • v. To be ill-tempered; to complain or find fault.
  • v. To cudgel or beat, as with a crabstick
  • n. The tree species Carapa guianensis, native of South America.

from the GNU version of the Collaborative International Dictionary of English

  • adj. Sour; rough; austere.
  • n. One of the brachyuran Crustacea. They are mostly marine, and usually have a broad, short body, covered with a strong shell or carapace. The abdomen is small and curled up beneath the body.
  • n. The zodiacal constellation Cancer.
  • n. A crab apple; -- so named from its harsh taste.
  • n. A cudgel made of the wood of the crab tree; a crabstick.
  • n.
  • n. A movable winch or windlass with powerful gearing, used with derricks, etc.
  • n. A form of windlass, or geared capstan, for hauling ships into dock, etc.
  • n. A machine used in ropewalks to stretch the yarn.
  • n. A claw for anchoring a portable machine.
  • intransitive v. To drift sidewise or to leeward, as a vessel.
  • transitive v. To make sour or morose; to embitter.
  • transitive v. To beat with a crabstick.

from The Century Dictionary and Cyclopedia

  • To fish for or catch crabs: as, to go crabbing.
  • Figuratively, to act like a crab in crawling backward; back out; “crawfish”: as, he tried to crab out of it.
  • To irritate; fret; vex; provoke; make peevish, cross, sour, or bitter, as a person or his disposition; make crabbed.
  • To break or bruise.
  • To be peevish or cross.
  • In falconry, to seize each other when fighting: said of hawks.
  • Sour; rough; harsh to the taste.
  • To ‘pull to pieces’; criticize or find fault with; hence, to hinder, spoil or defeat by adverse criticism of trivial details.
  • n. A popular name for all the stalk-eyed, ten-footed, and short-tailed or soft-tailed crustaceans constituting the subclass Podophthalmia, order Decapoda, and suborders Brachyura and Anomura: distinguished from lobsters, shrimps, prawns, crawfish, and other long-tailed or macrurous crustaceans, by shortness of body, the abdomen or so-called tail being reduced and folded under the thorax and constituting the apron, or otherwise modified. See cut under Brachyura.
  • n. Some crustacean likened to or mistaken for a crab: as, the glass-crabs; the king-crabs. See the compounds.
  • n. A crab-louse.
  • n. Cancer, a constellation and sign of the zodiac. See Cancer
  • n. An arch.
  • n. plural The lowest cast at hazard.
  • n. A name of various machines and mechanical contrivances.
  • n. Among professional oarsmen, to sink the oar-blade so deeply in the water that it cannot he lifted easily, and hence tends to throw the rower out of the boat.
  • n. A small, tart, and somewhat astringent apple, of which there are several varieties, cultivated chiefly for ornament and to be made into preserves, jelly, etc.; the crab-apple.
  • n. The tree producing the fruit.
  • n. A walking-stick or club made of the wood of the crab-apple; a crabstick.
  • n. A crabbed, sour-tempered, peevish, morose person.
  • n.
  • n. Iu Australia, the marine crustacean, Scylla serrata; also, Telphusa transversa, a crustacean found in fresh water.
  • n. plural Same as crabyaws.
  • n. A cliff-crab, especially Grapsus pictus.
  • n.

from WordNet 3.0 Copyright 2006 by Princeton University. All rights reserved.

  • v. scurry sideways like a crab
  • n. the fourth sign of the zodiac; the sun is in this sign from about June 21 to July 22
  • v. complain
  • n. decapod having eyes on short stalks and a broad flattened carapace with a small abdomen folded under the thorax and pincers
  • n. (astrology) a person who is born while the sun is in Cancer
  • n. a louse that infests the pubic region of the human body
  • v. fish for crab
  • n. a quarrelsome grouch
  • n. the edible flesh of any of various crabs
  • n. a stroke of the oar that either misses the water or digs too deeply
  • v. direct (an aircraft) into a crosswind


from The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, 4th Edition

Middle English crabbe, from Old English crabba.
Middle English crabbe, possibly from crabbe, crab (shellfish); see crab1.

from Wiktionary, Creative Commons Attribution/Share-Alike License

From Middle English crabbe, from Old English crabba, from Proto-Germanic *krabbô (cf. Dutch krab, Low German Krabb, Swedish krabba), from *krabbōnan 'to creep, crawl' (cf. East Frisian kraabje, Low German/Dutch krabben, German (Bavarian) krepsen), from Proto-Indo-European *grobʰ- 'to scratch, claw at', variant of *gerebʰ-. More at carve.

from Wiktionary, Creative Commons Attribution/Share-Alike License

Germanic: plausibly from Scandinavian, cognate with Swedish dialect scrabba



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  • I think of verjuice and crabstick.

    January 31, 2013

  • An older grouchy word is crab, which comes not from the crustacean but the sour crab apple, which in turn may come from Swedish dialect word skrabba, “fruit of the wild apple-tree,” according to the Oxford English Dictionary (OED). Crab came to refer to a sour person in the 1570s.--- Wordie: Errata 29 Jan 2013

    January 31, 2013

  • How did I miss this? "In falconry, to seize each other when fighting: said of hawks." --CD&C

    October 5, 2011

  • Yeah, you call that catching a crab. It doesn't always throw you out of the boat (a bad one at high speed will) but it's kind of painful and not exactly great for race momentum.

    July 30, 2011

  • "9. Among professional oarsmen, to sink the oar-blade so deeply in the water that it cannot be lifted easily, and hence tends to throw the rower out of the boat." --Cent. Dict.

    July 29, 2011

  • "The adult crabs, like many other species, live in groups divided by sex when they are not molting or mating. The males can migrate up to 100 miles in a year, moving at times as fast as a mile per day in massed male-only configurations, like rolling balls on the sea floor. They eat worms, clams, mussels, snails, brittle stars, sea stars, sea urchins, sand dollars, barnacles, other crustaceans, fish parts, humans if they can find one, sponges, algae—and other king crabs. And they are eaten by cod, halibut, octopuses, sea otters, nemertean worms—and other king crabs."

    —Johnathan and Andy Hillstrand, with Malcolm MacPherson, Time Bandit: Two Brothers, the Bering Sea, and One of the World's Deadliest Jobs, 112

    June 21, 2008