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 The European Union on Wednesday accused China of a concerted effort to spread disinformation about the coronavirus pandemic, lumping it with the Kremlin as a global scofflaw seeking to sow divisions in European societies., "UK scientist: Week earlier lockdown could have halved deaths," 11 June 2020 Police claim that scofflaws are terrorizing people in and out of camps. oregonlive, "Few homeless people have coronavirus. Portland still plans to resume clearing camps.," 31 May 2020 Officers have had, on occasion, to wade into the water to remonstrate with wave-catching scofflaws, many of whom scaled fences or clambered down cliffs to ride the breakers. The Economist, "A process of elimination What next for countries that are nearly covid-free?," 23 Apr. 2020 The scofflaws in the southern Florida city are hardly alone. Katie Shepherd, Anchorage Daily News, "Masks become a flashpoint for protests and fights as businesses, beaches and parks reopen," 5 May 2020 The scofflaw was none other than new Tampa resident Tom Brady, according to Mayor Jane Castor. Joe Sutton, CNN, "Tom Brady was cited for working out in a closed Tampa park, mayor says," 21 Apr. 2020 Prohibition greatly expanded federal law enforcement powers and turned millions of Americans into scofflaws. Washington Post, "Prohibition began 100 years ago, and its legacy remains," 14 Jan. 2020 Bare-faced scofflaws could be fined or imprisoned, said San Francisco Mayor London Breed, although authorities are calling for voluntary compliance and do not envision jail cells full of unmasked outlaws. Steve Rubenstein,, "Bay Area says it’s OK with the order to wear face masks in public to deal with coronavirus threat," 18 Apr. 2020 City leaders from California to Texas are trying different approaches to catch the scofflaws or at least discourage them. Talis Shelbourne, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, "'Treating an entire neighborhood like a trash can:' Amani residents fed up with people who illegally dump trash," 19 Feb. 2020

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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The first known use of scofflaw was in 1924

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Last Updated

22 Jun 2020

Cite this Entry

“Scofflaw.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 8 Aug. 2020.

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