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.

Examples of scofflaw in a Sentence

Recent Examples on the Web Trump, by virtue of delays, incessant appeals and all manner of chicanery, has shown that a scofflaw can indeed prevail, escape prosecution and real accountability, deny any and all wrongdoing and still be the presidential candidate for millions of Americans. Letters To The Editor, The Mercury News, 3 Apr. 2024 The scofflaws were men and women, young and old, wild hair and no hair. Bill Laytner, Detroit Free Press, 29 Jan. 2024 But police have been ignoring scofflaws driving solo and zipping down the lanes — until now, when top state officials at both the State Police and Department of Transportation signed an administrative order. Bill Laytner, Detroit Free Press, 29 Jan. 2024 The new impound rules are modeled after a similar crackdown in Orange, a city near Anaheim that had been dealing with the same kinds of scofflaw vendors for years. David Garrick, San Diego Union-Tribune, 14 Feb. 2024 State law gives jurisdictions that followed the rules earlier in the process a more leisurely schedule, while tightening the screws on scofflaws. Ben Christopher, The Mercury News, 25 Jan. 2024 Traffic scofflaws, beware: Speed cameras will go up later this year in Los Angeles, Glendale and Long Beach. Ryan Fonseca, Los Angeles Times, 2 Jan. 2024 Assembly member Felix Rivera initially proposed repealing the scofflaw program entirely. Emily Goodykoontz, Anchorage Daily News, 23 Aug. 2023 Crime and courts Traffic scofflaws beware: Speed cameras will go up next year in Los Angeles, Glendale, Long Beach. Kevinisha Walker, Los Angeles Times, 30 Dec. 2023

These examples are programmatically compiled from various online sources to illustrate current usage of the word 'scofflaw.' Any opinions expressed in the examples do not represent those of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback about these examples.

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 19 Apr. 2024.

Last Updated: - Updated example sentences
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