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

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 Even scofflaws like Lyft and Uber are wising up, submitting proposals to cities like Santa Monica before launching their own scooter businesses there. Umair Irfan, Vox, "Electric scooters’ sudden invasion of American cities, explained," 7 Sep. 2018 Early complaints about vandalism, blocked sidewalks, and scofflaw riders — while still valid — have since given way to a realization that, hey, these things are kind of fun! Andrew J. Hawkins, The Verge, "Bird’s electric scooters are getting more rugged to handle heavy use," 24 Sep. 2018 Other states and cities have tried to take action to reduce the number of registration scofflaws. Michelle Baruchman, The Seattle Times, "What does Washington state do about newcomers who keep out-of-state license plates?," 23 July 2018 In the late 1980s, then-Mayor Ed Koch introduced boots as a way to crack down on scofflaws, who in turn managed to partially destroy or fully remove the automotive restraining devices, causing the city to revamp the boot design six times over. Steve Rousseau, Popular Mechanics, "Can the Parking Boot Be Beat?," 6 June 2013 People told Byrd, a Weekly Standard reporter, to dump this scofflaw for his crimes against candy. Lisa Gutierrez, kansascity, "Twitter told her to dump boyfriend over how he eats Kit Kats. Then he sweetly proposed," 10 July 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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Last Updated

22 May 2019

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Time Traveler for scofflaw

The first known use of scofflaw was in 1924

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to speak slightingly about or to degrade

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