The first attested use of the word scumbag is from the 1967 edition of the Dictionary of American Slang, but it was probably in use for a while before that: it's thought to have originated around the 1930s. At the time, it meant "condom", on the notion that they were "bags" for "scum". The modern insult for "terrible person" emerged in the early 1970s from that earlier definition, and since then usage has grown exponentially until a peak in 2017. Scum comes from the Middle Dutch word schume, meaning "foam" or "froth", and that, through Proto-Germanic skuma, derives from the Proto-Indo-European root skew, meaning "cover", since foam covers water. Bag, meanwhile, traces to the Old Norse noun baggi, meaning "bundle", and that possibly traces to Proto-Indo-European bask, also "bundle".
Hello! I'm Adam Aleksic, a junior studying government and linguistics at Harvard University, where I co-founded the Harvard Undergraduate Linguistics Society. In addition to etymology, I also really enjoy trivia, politics, vexillology, geography, board games, conlanging, art history, and law.