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

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 Biden's hopes of reviving a nuclear deal with Iran may already be on the rocks if Tehran hardliners scupper dialogue. Stephen Collinson, CNN, 14 Apr. 2021 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, 19 Jan. 2018 And knitting needles can roll on deck and out the scuppers. Andrea Sachs,, 26 Oct. 2017 Recent Examples on the Web: Verb The Australian Open had hoped to welcome international tourists, only for omicron to scupper the border opening. Washington Post, 11 Jan. 2022 But the Australian looked equal to her opponent's efforts and had the chance to serve for the championship, only to scupper the opportunity and lose in the resulting tie-break. Ben Church, CNN, 10 July 2021 But after Trump publicly criticized it, House Republican leader Kevin McCarthy helped scupper the deal agreed to by his own side. Stephen Collinson With Shelby Rose, CNN, 27 July 2021 Supply issues could scupper recent gains in New Zealand and Australia. Washington Post, 4 June 2021 Swaths of the country, often in states that Trump won last year, are wary of vaccines -- a skepticism that threatens to scupper hopes of driving out the virus for good. Stephen Collinson, CNN, 25 May 2021 That means that given luck, good health and presuming no legal problems or financial woes emerge to scupper any comeback hopes, the former President will be at minimum a major player in GOP politics until at least 2024. Stephen Collinson, CNN, 6 May 2021 Analysts were divided about whether Israel’s aggression was intended to scupper the negotiations altogether — or to simply weaken Iran’s hand at the table., 12 Apr. 2021 LifePoint is trying to scupper the efforts by lobbying the Biden administration and Wyoming’s senators to oppose the project. Brian Spegele, WSJ, 11 Apr. 2021

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

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Cite this Entry

“Scupper.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 23 Jan. 2022.

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More Definitions for scupper



English Language Learners Definition of scupper

 (Entry 1 of 2)

: 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)

: to cause (something) to stop or fail


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