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 In 2013, a television broadcast showed Egypt’s leaders — including the president at the time, Mohamed Morsi — discussing covert tactics to scupper the dam, including a bomb attack. Declan Walsh And Somini Sengupta Graphics By Jeremy White Photographs By Laura Boushnak, New York Times, "For Thousands of Years, Egypt Controlled the Nile. A New Dam Threatens That.," 9 Feb. 2020 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 Recent Examples on the Web: Verb Shares in Australian travel and leisure-related companies fell amid news of the border restrictions and concerns a broader lockdown in Sydney could scupper summer holiday plans. Jason Gale,, "Sydney’s Swelling Covid Outbreak Risks Scuppering Christmas," 20 Dec. 2020 The European Union further strengthened its targets for cutting emissions on Friday—despite internal resistance from poorer countries within the union that threatened to scupper the deal. Katherine Dunn, Fortune, "Europe goes all in on its net-zero pledge, backing tough new emissions targets —but not without a fight," 11 Dec. 2020 But the two sides are still at loggerheads over what access EU fishing boats will have to U.K. waters, something that could yet scupper an overall deal. Ian Wishart,, "Johnson to Intervene in Brexit Talks as EU Seeks Concessions," 2 Oct. 2020 But, as with this year’s Victory Day extravaganza, the coronavirus scuppered those plans. NBC News, "With parade postponed and coronavirus cases rocketing, Putin pays a somber tribute to WWII dead," 9 May 2020 After 1,500 nautical miles, the expedition was scuppered when storms irreparably damaged the mainsail of his support boat. Sarah Lazarus, CNN, "Long-distance swimmer dives into the Great Pacific Garbage Patch," 11 Dec. 2019 Mr Karoui was subsequently charged with money-laundering, which would seem to scupper his chances. The Economist, "Tunisians say goodbye to President Beji Caid Essebsi," 1 Aug. 2019 However, the 32-goal midfielder's move to the Premier League was eventually scuppered by the demands of the side from the Portuguese capital., "Tottenham Tipped to Resurrect Pursuit of £70m Bruno Fernandes in January," 14 Oct. 2019 This, Mr Pawlowski claims, was scuppered by local authorities, which in 2012 reversed zoning rules by court order. The Economist, "Disgruntled investors are losing patience with central Europe," 8 June 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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Cite this Entry

“Scupper.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 19 Jan. 2021.

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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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