December 27, 2009


A rugby scrum image
scrum noun


1. Rugby an ordered formation of players the forwards of each team push against each other with heads down and the ball thrown in.
2. British informal: a disorderly crowd —The New Oxford American Dictionary

Scrum is an abbreviation of scrummage, a variant of scrimmage, "a confused struggle or fight." Scrimmage was at one time also a variant of skirmish, "an episode of irregular or unpremeditated fighting." Skirmish traces back to Old French eskirmir, a derivative of a Germanic verb meaning "defend." —Online Etymology Dictionary

Though a scrum these days in rugby is an "orderly formation" of players pushing against each other just before the ball is put into play, the word's earlier forms signified confrontations that were confused, irregular, or unpremeditated — put bluntly: spontaneous fights.

This posting centers on scrum, not as a rugby formation, but as "a disorderly crowd" or as the OED phrases it, "a confused noisy throng (at a social function or the like)."

Scrum in this latter sense appears with increased frequency of late in American publications, notably in the New York Times, wherein it appeared no fewer than 15 times during the past 30 days. Each of the example sentences employ scrum to convey the notion of "disorderly crowd" or "confused noisy throng," but also an added piece of localized information, which I will call a contextual entailment, a necessary or inevitable part or consequence of the situation described. After each example sentence, I've added what I think is the operative contextual entailment. If the reader thinks that I've misidentified any of the entailments or that the words I've chosen could be improved, I'd be delighted to read any comments you care to share using the Comments widget at the bottom of the posting.


BlogTalk: Palin Enters, and Quickly Tries to Exit, the Scrum on Obama's Birthplace.—NYTimes, The Caucus Politics, Reader's Comments, Dec. 25, 2009.

Contextual entailment: political disagreement

But the brief scrum set off [the attack upon Pope Benedict XVI] in the Vatican assault involving security officers. —NYTimes, The Lede, The New York Times Blog. Dec.25, 2009.

Contextual entailment: physical attack

There may be reveling elsewhere in the city, and an oversize scrum clogging Times Square just a few blocks away, but Ms. [Mariah] Carey's performance is certain to be this night's true spectacle. —NYTimes, Music, by Ben Ratliff, et al., Dec. 24, 2009

Contextual entailment: raucous dancing

The closest my siblings and I ever come to religion is at Christmastime: we always liked to go to church to sing carols. We overcompensated for out lack of piousness with a deafening coral volume; we can make "Angels we Have Heard on High" sound like a scrum of Panzers. —Henry Alford. NYTimes, Fashion & Style, Dec. 18, 2009.

Contextual entailment: sound of World War II German tanks

Rhetorical intent: hyperbole in the service of humor

With "The Lady in the Tower," inserts herself into the scrum of historians eager to interpret Anne Boelyn's story. —Janet Maslin. NYTimes, Books. Dec. 17, 2009.

Contextual entailment: scholarly argumentation

As the brand that is Tiger Woods goes pop and accusers scrum over notoriety, [here are] a few thoughts on the hidden costs of fame. —New York Times, Week in Review, Times Topics, Dec. 13, 2009.

Contextual entailments: speculating and probably some jabbering

The pioneer in the all-news TV format loses viewers' interest in the political scrum between Fox on the right and MSNBC on the left. —Bill Carter. NYTimes, Times Topics, Oct. 27, 2009.

Contextual entailment: conflicting political biases
Here is an on-the-ground description of a scrum of reporters who were following Republican presidential candidate Fred Thompson in the early days of the 2007 primaries.

At this point in the political season news bureaus which might have been saving their travel budgets have had to start sending print reporters, television reporters, still photographers, videographers, producers and sound people on the road to cover the campaign.When they gather around a candidate it is called from rugby or Australian Rules Football or something.Here’s an example: The candidate [Fred Thompson] is barely visible in the middle.

The scrum is an interesting being because the still and video guys need to have a direct view of the candidate. The sound guys have their microphones on long booms and just need to keep it somewhere near the top of the candidate’s head. The TV reporters are always mindful of “the shot” and will try to keep themselves between their camera and the candidate. Print reporters don’t care as long as they can hear – or, at least, get their voice recorders somewhere in the vicinity of the candidate’s mouth.
Source:, where Rich Galen gives a Republican "take on politics, culture and general modern annoyances." The excerpt comes from a posting titled "At the Fair," published August 19, 2007.
Scrumskrum! —sounds about right for a word that means disorderly, noisy, crowd. The keen-eared Roy Blount Jr. in Alphabet Juice describes the vowel in scrum as the "sound that comes from deepest down — the grunt vowel, the dull thud vowel, the vowel we may utter when punched in the stomach — . . . the flat u-sound: uh." Attend to the scr sound for a while, and some rather rousing words come to mind: scrape, scour, score, scream, scourge, scrunch. Note, too, the rum words scum, thrum, and drum, and one can concluded that the sounds of scrum resonate robustly with the word's rambunctious intention.



  1. Good word! Since I dislike football and do not understand the game, I don't know what to say when I see football on TV with guys running around jumping on each other. "SCRUM!" Thanks John.

  2. Clever! Scrum is universally used and lexicalized as noun, adjective, and verb. But you have coined the word into an exclamation, i.e., a vehement expression of protest or complaint, as in "Blast [or damn] those scrum sports!" Thank you for the excellent comment!