from The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, 5th Edition.

  • noun Any of various chiefly marine decapod crustaceans of the infraorder Brachyura, having a hard carapace that covers a broad flattened cephalothorax with a small abdomen tucked beneath it, and an anterior pair of legs that are large and pincerlike.
  • noun Any of various similar decapod crustaceans, such as a hermit crab or a king crab.
  • noun Crabmeat.
  • noun A crab louse.
  • noun Slang Infestation by crab lice.
  • noun The maneuvering of an aircraft partially into a crosswind to compensate for drift.
  • noun A machine for handling or hoisting heavy weights.
  • intransitive verb To hunt or catch crabs.
  • intransitive verb To scurry sideways in the manner of a crab.
  • intransitive verb To drift diagonally or sideways, especially when under tow.
  • intransitive verb To direct an aircraft into a crosswind.
  • intransitive verb To direct (an aircraft) partly into a crosswind to eliminate drift.
  • intransitive verb 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.
  • noun A crabapple tree or its fruit.
  • noun A quarrelsome, ill-tempered person.
  • intransitive verb To find fault; criticize someone or something.
  • intransitive verb Informal To interfere with and ruin; spoil.
  • intransitive verb Informal To find fault with; complain about.
  • intransitive verb To make ill-tempered or sullen.

from The Century Dictionary.

  • 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.
  • noun A crabbed, sour-tempered, peevish, morose person.
  • Sour; rough; harsh to the taste.
  • 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.
  • noun Iu Australia, the marine crustacean, Scylla serrata; also, Telphusa transversa, a crustacean found in fresh water.
  • noun plural Same as crabyaws.
  • noun A cliff-crab, especially Grapsus pictus.
  • noun 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.
  • noun Some crustacean likened to or mistaken for a crab: as, the glass-crabs; the king-crabs. See the compounds.
  • noun A crab-louse.
  • noun Cancer, a constellation and sign of the zodiac. See Cancer
  • noun An arch.
  • noun plural The lowest cast at hazard.
  • noun A name of various machines and mechanical contrivances.
  • noun 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.
  • To ‘pull to pieces’; criticize or find fault with; hence, to hinder, spoil or defeat by adverse criticism of trivial details.
  • noun 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.
  • noun The tree producing the fruit.
  • noun A walking-stick or club made of the wood of the crab-apple; a crabstick.

from the GNU version of the Collaborative International Dictionary of English.

  • intransitive verb (Naut.) To drift sidewise or to leeward, as a vessel.
  • adjective Sour; rough; austere.
  • transitive verb obsolete To make sour or morose; to embitter.


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

[Middle English crabbe, from Old English crabba; see gerbh- in Indo-European roots.]

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

[Middle English crabbe, possibly from crabbe, crab (shellfish); see crab.]

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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  • "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

  • "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

  • 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

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

    October 5, 2011

  • 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

  • I think of verjuice and crabstick.

    January 31, 2013