scup·​per | \ ˈskə-pər How to pronounce scupper (audio) \

Definition of scupper

 (Entry 1 of 2)

1 : an opening cut through the bulwarks of a ship so that water falling on deck may flow overboard
2 : an opening in the wall of a building through which water can drain from a floor or flat roof


scuppered; scuppering; scuppers

Definition of scupper (Entry 2 of 2)

transitive verb

chiefly British
: to defeat or put an end to : do in sense 1a

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Scupper Has Military Origins


All efforts to figure out where this verb came from have been defeated, including attempts to connect it to the noun scupper, a 500-year-old word for a drain opening in the side of a ship. (One conjecture, that the blood of shipboard battle was "scuppered" when it was washed down the scuppers, unfortunately lacks backing in the form of any actual evidence of the verb used this way.) All we know for sure is that scupper meant "to ambush and massacre" in 19th-century military slang. Then, just before the century turned, it found its place in a magazine story in the sense of simply "doing (someone) in." The more common modern application to things rather than people being done in or defeated didn't appear until a couple of decades into the 20th century.

Examples of scupper in a Sentence

Verb The latest information could scupper the peace talks.
Recent Examples on the Web: Noun Seeking to scupper such attempts, the legislature last month passed an anti-infiltration bill laying out fines and prison sentences for those seeking to manipulate Taiwan’s political system on behalf of China or other foreign powers. Washington Post, "Taiwan president urges voters to turn out, uphold democracy," 10 Jan. 2020 The opposition could now get the opportunity next week to attach amendments to the deal to scupper Johnson’s plans. Adam Rasmi, Quartz, "What’s next for Brexit after Boris Johnson lost yet another vote in Parliament?," 19 Oct. 2019 Some think the attack on Saudi Arabia is an attempt by hardliners to scupper any hope of a rapprochement. The Economist, "The attack on Saudi oil facilities raises the risks of war," 16 Sep. 2019 As with so many technological advances, this new frontier has the potential to both help and scupper humanity. Dominic Rech, CNN, "Brain implants could give governments and companies power to read your mind, scientists warn," 10 Sep. 2019 Naomi, having fully intended to scupper the entire thing in the first place, ends up recommending a deal to her cousin Nan. Rey Mashayekhi, Fortune, "‘Succession’ Recap, S2E5: Money Wins," 9 Sep. 2019 Assuming the Labour Party remains united against the government, there are more than enough Tory rebels both on the hard-Brexit wing and the moderate, Mayite wing to scupper Mr Johnson’s plans. The Economist, "Prime Minister Boris Johnson fulfils his dream," 23 July 2019 To best avoid ice dams, IBHS has created safety guidelines to follow: Keep drains, scuppers, gutters, and downspouts clear of debris. Madison Alcedo, Country Living, "Why You Should Always Clear Snow Off Your Roof," 19 Jan. 2018 Assuming the Labour Party remains united against the government, there are more than enough Tory rebels both on the hard-Brexit wing and the moderate, Mayite wing to scupper Mr Johnson’s plans. The Economist, "Prime Minister Boris Johnson fulfils his dream," 23 July 2019 Recent Examples on the Web: Verb Why don't the candidates all propose to scupper the tariffs? Mark Montgomery For Cnn Business Perspectives, CNN, "Why the 2020 candidates' economic plans are making me question if I'm really a Democrat," 20 Nov. 2019 After lawmakers voted 322 to 306 to withhold support for Johnson’s new Brexit deal, scuppering his hope of finalizing Britain’s exit plan at an extraordinary — but ill-named? Michael Birnbaum, Washington Post, "Boris Johnson to seek a new vote Monday on his Brexit deal, as confusion swirls over exit delay," 20 Oct. 2019 In the end, his ambition was scuppered by Avigdor Lieberman, a former ally, who refused to join his coalition, accusing Netanyahu of giving ultra-Orthodox religious parties too much power. NBC News, "Israel headed for third election in 12 months after deadline expires," 11 Dec. 2019 The absence of just one specialist can delay or scupper the whole project. The Economist, "Skilled migrantsHow migration makes the world brainier," 14 Nov. 2019 On the other hand, the decision to postpone the IPO, is both embarrassing and could scupper a critical source of credit financing that would have resulted from a successful listing. Ben Edwards, Fortune, "WeWork Is London’s Largest Tenant. Now, the City May Pose Its First Major Test," 22 Sep. 2019 Competition issues in parts of Europe, feisty unions and messy politics could yet scupper any deal. The Economist, "Peugeot’s boss, Carlos Tavares, plans a merger with Fiat Chrysler," 31 Oct. 2019 The Prime Minister may still be wise to keep one eye north of the border on Monday -- as not for the first time, a Scottish court hearing could scupper his plans further. Rob Picheta, CNN, "It's another crunch week for Brexit (no, we really mean it this time)," 21 Oct. 2019 May’s strategy had been to bring the deal back for a third vote in the hope of pushing it through at the last minute, but Speaker John Bercow scuppered that plan in a dramatic and controversial intervention on March 18. Washington Post, "What You Need to Know as the Brexit Deadline Nears," 20 Sep. 2019

These example sentences are selected automatically from various online news sources to reflect current usage of the word 'scupper.' 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 scupper


15th century, in the meaning defined at sense 1


1899, in the meaning defined above

History and Etymology for scupper


Middle English skopper- (in compounds), perhaps from Anglo-French *escopoir, from escopir to spit out


origin unknown

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Time Traveler for scupper

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The first known use of scupper was in the 15th century

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Last Updated

26 Jan 2020

Cite this Entry

“Scupper.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 21 Feb. 2020.

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More Definitions for scupper


How to pronounce scupper (audio)

English Language Learners Definition of scupper

 (Entry 1 of 2)

technical : a hole in the side of a boat that allows water to drain from the deck



English Language Learners Definition of scupper (Entry 2 of 2)

British : to cause (something) to stop or fail

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