scoff·​law ˈskäf-ˌlȯ How to pronounce scofflaw (audio)
: 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.

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Example Sentences

Recent Examples on the Web The scofflaw in the next seat has always presented a quandary. New York Times, 5 July 2022 It’s a distinction given each year by the association of Investigative Reporters and Editors (IRE) to the worst public records and government transparency scofflaw. al, 28 June 2022 Annual costs for enforcement are estimated at about $5 million, which covers new code enforcement officers, new park rangers and new trash collection workers who may have to confiscate the pushcarts of scofflaw vendors. David Garrick, San Diego Union-Tribune, 17 May 2022 Authorities are now looking for the shirtless scofflaw. Lauren Steele, Outside Online, 6 Aug. 2014 Like the majority of people in this law-abiding country, Vize had little sympathy for the superstar scofflaw but also believed Australia’s government had tried to exploit the situation only to make a mess of it. Washington Post, 17 Jan. 2022 His creations have turned the former scofflaw graffitist into an illustrator and visual artist sought after by a growing list of global brands, including Adidas, Converse, Warner Bros., Google, Red Bull, EBay, Fendi, Ballentine and Mercedes-Benz. Selene Rivera Staff Writer, Los Angeles Times, 23 Oct. 2021 Records show one of those contracts was extended before the scofflaw list of owners was published. Cecilia Reyes,, 11 Oct. 2021 Moon’s enforcement officers have been traveling with the blitz crews, strapping on gloves to dig through trash for paperwork that identifies the scofflaw. Noah Baustin, San Francisco Chronicle, 23 Aug. 2021 See More

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.

Word History

First Known Use

1924, in the meaning defined above

Time Traveler
The first known use of scofflaw was in 1924


Dictionary Entries Near scofflaw

Cite this Entry

“Scofflaw.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 29 Sep. 2022.

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