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 So why does anyone beyond Texas or Oregon care about these scofflaw lawmakers? Philip Elliott, Time, 13 July 2021 Numerous social media posts and photos from the Indianapolis Motor Speedway over the weekend show many a maskless scofflaw and people crowded closely together, driving concern over what the race stands might look like this Sunday. Shari Rudavsky, The Indianapolis Star, 27 May 2021 For example, the brake checking driver might change lanes to position their car directly ahead of the oncoming car that is presumably being disrespectful or acting as a scofflaw. Lance Eliot, Forbes, 17 May 2021 That’s because even the most perfect, rule-following marijuana patient is technically still a scofflaw in the eyes of the federal government, which oversees many aspects of gun sales and possession across the nation. Bethany Rodgers, The Salt Lake Tribune, 26 Apr. 2021 Court records portray the man as a scofflaw with mental health and substance abuse problems who frequently called police to report unfounded thefts or minor quarrels with his neighbors, medical aides, tenants — anyone who entered his world. Paul Walsh, Star Tribune, 23 Mar. 2021 Today, after four years of scofflaw behavior, the country appears to be developing a crusty indifference to presidential misconduct. Robert Moilanen, Star Tribune, 27 Dec. 2020 Everybody enjoys being thought of as a scofflaw, or a hell-raiser, or defier of authority, especially if such activity happened in the past. Karen Martin, Arkansas Online, 29 Nov. 2020 Embarrassment at being called out for your scofflaw behavior, followed by annoyance or anger? Kim Campbell Thornton Andrews Mcmeel, Star Tribune, 16 Oct. 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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Time Traveler for scofflaw

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The first known use of scofflaw was in 1924

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Last Updated

17 Jul 2021

Cite this Entry

“Scofflaw.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 24 Jul. 2021.

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