scoff·​law | \ ˈskäf-ˌlȯ How to pronounce scofflaw (audio) , ˈskȯf-\

Definition of scofflaw

: a contemptuous law violator

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Scofflaw Was Created for a Contest

In 1924, a wealthy Massachusetts Prohibitionist named Delcevare King sponsored a contest in which he asked participants to coin an appropriate word to mean "a lawless drinker." King sought a word that would cast violators of Prohibition laws in a light of shame. Two respondents came up independently with the winning word: scofflaw, formed by combining the verb scoff and the noun law. Henry Dale and Kate Butler, also of Massachusetts, split King’s $200 prize. Improbably, despite some early scoffing from language critics, scofflaw managed to pick up steam in English and expand to a meaning that went beyond its Prohibition roots, referring to one who violates any law, not just laws related to drinking.

Examples of scofflaw in a Sentence

Recent Examples on the Web

Their bill would have done other things too, such as set timetables for responses to open records requests and penalties for scofflaws like the Health Care Authority for Baptist Health., "Public records access is supposed to be free in Alabama. But it cost one business $70,000.," 8 July 2019 Mayor Bill de Blasio's administration says a group of scofflaws owe $4.5 million for 22,500 unpaid parking and traffic violations. Kate Gibson, CBS News, "New York City sting targets scofflaw ice cream vendors," 6 June 2019 BART’s directors, like its riders, have become preoccupied with social issues that keep welling up on the system, such as scofflaws who hop gates and the swelling homeless population. Rachel Swan,, "BART board approves budget, including fare hike compromise," 13 June 2019 This seizure marks the end of the road for these scofflaw ice cream vendors. Kate Gibson, CBS News, "New York City sting targets scofflaw ice cream vendors," 6 June 2019 Some of us scofflaws ignore the legality and blow the light after coming to a complete stop, of course. Gary Richards, The Mercury News, "‘Rebel’ driver explains why he ignores no-right-on-red law: Roadshow," 6 June 2019 To ease congestion, officials started cracking down on scofflaws in the Center City area in September. Scott Calvert, WSJ, "Philadelphia Fights Gridlock With Ticket Blitz," 8 Nov. 2018 But critics contend that not everyone who fails to pay a toll is a scofflaw. Washington Post, "Maryland rakes in millions of dollars from toll fines and penalties," 28 Apr. 2018 Portland arts tax scofflaws beware: City tax collectors on Wednesday won the ability to spend more money to go after money-earning adults who don't pay the $35 annual tax. Gordon R. Friedman,, "Portland City Council axes limit on arts tax overhead spending," 14 Mar. 2018

These example sentences are selected automatically from various online news sources to reflect current usage of the word 'scofflaw.' Views expressed in the examples do not represent the opinion of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback.

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First Known Use of scofflaw

1924, in the meaning defined above

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Statistics for scofflaw

Last Updated

17 Jul 2019

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Time Traveler for scofflaw

The first known use of scofflaw was in 1924

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an act or instance of editing or removing

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