We’ve talked a good deal about soccer of late. Now for some ruggers.

Scrum refers to the deal in rugby where all or most of the players join in a kind of aggressive group hug. (I await scornful corrections and clarifications.) The OED’s first citation for a metaphorical use–denoting “a confused, noisy throng (at a social function or the like)”–is  Murder Included,  by J. Cannan (1950): “I kept wondering where you were..in that awful scrum.” That and all subsequent cites in the dictionary are British except for a 1979 quote from the Globe & Mail of Toronto.

Scrum appeared to arrive in the U.S. in the 1970s as well. Early uses tended to be make the metaphor explicit, as in an article by the NY Times’ R.W. “Johnny” Apple about a Watergate trial: Judge Sirica, he wrote, had jurors “approach the bench individually to talk to him and to a kind of rugby scrum of lawyers straining to hear the process.”

As Wes Davis pointed out to me, scrum is now everywhere in the U.S. media. Google News reports that fourteen hours ago (as I write), the Omaha World-Herald posted, “An arbitrator’s report details why an Omaha officer was reinstated after her role in an arrest scrum last year outside Creighton University.”

But Johnny Apple’s erstwhile employer, the Times, has given the word more love, by far, than any other publication. Wes noted a front-page story in the paper yesterday about low pay in Apple stores (great article by the way): “If a solution took longer to find, which it frequently did, a pileup ensued and a scrum of customers would hover.” But that’s one example out of thousands. The Times  has used scrum an astonishing 98 times in 2012, all but a handful of them in a non-rugby context. Time to give it a rest, methinks.

29 thoughts on ““Scrum”

  1. Ruggers?
    “Scrum” is wonderfully onomatopoeic though, and it does the job of a verb as well as a noun, because you know it’s a group or a crowed of people who are scuffling around roughly and endangering each other’s physical wellbeing. I don’t know of another single word to convey all of that.

    1. I use “methinks” a couple times per year, if for no other reason than to keep the word alive. It’s a wonderful word. Why use a phrase when a single word will do?
      IMHO, methinks “IMHO” should be given a rest. Or at least delete the H, which seems to me a pretentious superfluity. .

  2. There was a comic strip, I think it was Bloom County, back in the 1980s, featuring a one-time appearance by a reporter named Nigel Scrum.

  3. Scrum is often used in “project management” circles in contexts like “scrum call” – which refers to a teleconference where a whole bunch of people get together to hash out some issue. I’ve often thought that there was a basic misinterpretation of the term scrum at the root of this usage. I think whoever first came up with the term “scrum call” might have thought that a scrum in rugby was like a huddle in American football, a context for discussion of immediate tactical concerns.

    1. Yes – it is, but the page you cite points out Rugby as the original of the Agile usage: ‘They called this the holistic or rugby approach, as the whole process is performed by one cross-functional team across multiple overlapping phases, where the team “tries to go the distance as a unit, passing the ball back and forth”‘

  4. Dear Americans, please also note that ‘rugger’ is simply an alternative word for ‘rugby’, albeit with strong upper-class connotations. Somebody who plays rugby is NEVER called a ‘rugger’ (groan). I have no idea what is meant by ‘ruggers’ as used above.

      1. @Robin … It’s not wrong in the US … and that’s my point. Rugger has been noted (and still is) for a rugby player for far more than 30 years. It’s not going to stop notwithstanding that it’s not noted that way in Britspeak.

        *Britspeak – No specific entry in the dictionary at the moment, but “worth considering” says the OED’s Jesse Sheidlower http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/magazine-19670686

      2. You certainly didn’t play rugby league, did you? It must have the boring toffs’ game, rugby union – or “kick and clap” as we call it.

    1. “Now for some ruggers.” sounds correct to me, to me it expresses the phrase “Now for some rugby”. A particularly toffish sounding phrase to me, ‘Up for a game of rugger?” or “Up for some ruggers?”, I doubt very much you would find many exponents of the more working class sport of rugby league (as oppose to the viewed as elitist rugby union) referring to their game as rugger or ruggers. I get to thinking that this may stem from what is considered the toffish word for (another elitist sport) polo in the UK, since it is referred to as ‘chukka’ or ‘chukkas’, I believe these words were imported from India during the British Empire.

  5. Hi. A brit here, trying to be helpful. Jan questioned “ruggers”. I’ve never heard the plural! The correct term is “rugger”, which is very common, as is “rugger bugger” as a derogatory term for Rugby enthusiasts.

  6. It’s a little unfair to use scrum to refer to unorganised jostling, since the rugby union scrum (scrummage) is a highly organised formation, utilising a specific number of players from specified playing positions. Scrummaging is an art form (one that we seem to be losing, given the deplorable amount of time modern teams need to get it right). Incidentally, in rugby league the scrum is used but is described as “uncontested”, which is to say that players form up in the same way as in a rugby union scrum, but are not allowed to shove the opposing team when the ball is fed in.

    1. That wasn’t always the case. I remember contested scrums in rugby league -as a hooker and occasional prop.

      I think we should get rid of them completely now.

  7. In Rugby Union there are actually two forms of scrum: a Set Scrum, which is indeed “a highly organised formation, utilising a specific number [8] of players from specified playing positions”; and a Loose Scrum (also called a ruck) which is formed from an arbitrary number of players when the ballcarrier is tackled and brought to ground.

    1. Nobody uses the term “loose scrum” any more. It went out decades ago amongst the ruckers and maulers of RU, and we never had it in RL.

  8. The term “scrum” is in widespread use in Canada, including in French, to refer to impromptu question-and-answer sessions with the press (typically, but not always, in the lobby of a parliament or legislature). Presumably this originally referred to “ambush” situations, where reporters stopped a politician as he or she emerged from a meeting. By now, however, scrums are an institution, often scheduled/announced.

    And the term gets used as a verb also. Quote from Hansard, Canadian House of Commons, March 14th, 2012:
    “Mr. Speaker, thank you for your clarification. I would like to inform the House that given your ruling, the Liberals will be scrumming after all in camera meetings to lift the veil of secrecy the Conservatives continue to drape over committees of this Parliament.”

    Rugby is rare although not unknown in Canada. Is there possibly some other use of scrum that pre-dates both the rugby and the media use of the term?

  9. I have always vaguely assumed that the term was related to Gridiron football’s “Line of Scrimmage”, and according to Wikipedia, I am correct – scrimmage is in fact the original term used in rugby, with an additional comment ” which in turn derives from or is a reflex of “skirmish”.”

  10. “a pileup ensued and a scrum of customers would hover”
    This strikes me as a complete mis-usage. The word ‘scrum’ should indicate a degree of struggle, and particularly struggling to get at something that a lot of other people are trying to get at simultaneously. You couldn’t possibly ‘hover’ – a word suggestive of detachment – and be part of a scrum at the same time. I think the writer here is using it wrongly as a synonym for crowd or group.

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