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 The Ivy League was the first Division I conference to scupper its conference tournament on Tuesday. Matthew Glenesk, Indianapolis Star, "Remainder of 2020 Big Ten men's basketball tournament canceled amid coronavirus concerns," 12 Mar. 2020 That hasn't calmed jittery investors, who are trying to make sense of a record drop in demand and are worried Russia could scupper the deal entirely. Julia Horowitz, CNN, "Good news on US jobs won't stop the stock market bleeding," 6 Mar. 2020 Analysts reckon that the virus could lead to Apple shipping 5-10% fewer iPhones this quarter and could scupper its plans to ramp up production of its popular AirPods. The Economist, "A deadly disease disrupts The new coronavirus could have a lasting impact on global supply chains," 13 Feb. 2020 Rumours of a summer swoop by Liverpool have intensified in recent days, but Werner's comments appear to scupper the Reds' hopes., "€100m Liverpool Target Reiterates He Will Not Leave Club This Summer As World Cup Approaches," 26 Mar. 2018 The secrecy, Mr Burns writes, was meant to keep opponents of a nuclear deal in both Washington and Tehran from scuppering the initiative at the outset. The Economist, "The art of the shadow deal Presidents have sometimes favoured back channels in foreign policy," 21 Nov. 2019 Past Fed nominees have scuppered their chances during their Senate testimonies. Jeanna Smialek, New York Times, "As Congress Prepares to Vet Judy Shelton, Worries About the Fed’s Future Mount," 12 Feb. 2020 But Hong Kong Exchanges’ offer would scupper LSE’s own bid for data provider Refinitiv, a deal that LSE shareholders like as shown by its soaring share price. Washington Post, "Hong Kong’s Stock Exchange Won’t Find Love in London," 12 Sep. 2019 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

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

8 Mar 2020

Cite this Entry

“Scupper.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 7 Apr. 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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Rhyming Dictionary: Words that rhyme with scupper

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