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 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 Nissan’s investors directed most of their ire at Jean-Dominique Senard, Renault’s chairman, who has pushed for a full merger with Nissan and had threatened to scupper changes to its governance (Renault owns 43% of Nissan). The Economist, "Business this week," 29 June 2019 Recent Examples on the Web: Verb 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 Konstantino Mavropanos looks set to remain at Arsenal for the time being, after a groin injury scuppered his chances of securing a loan move away from the Emirates Stadium., "Konstantino Mavropanos Likely to Remain at Arsenal After Picking Up Groin Injury," 21 Aug. 2019 Mr Trump may also find that China decides to drag its feet, in the hope of scuppering his chances of a second term and of getting a better deal (or one likelier to stick) with his Democratic successor. The Economist, "Markets are braced for a global downturn," 17 Aug. 2019 This was scuppered because the DUP, on which Mrs May’s government relies for its majority, opposed customs checks in the Irish Sea. The Economist, "The search for ways to keep the Irish border open after Brexit," 29 June 2019 But the controversial plan was scuppered because of opposing views within his administration. Petra Cahill, NBC News, "Secret Taliban talks, Bahamas' devastation, & Rafael Nadal's epic U.S. Open win: The Morning Rundown," 9 Sep. 2019 For the same reason, suggestions that Mr Johnson might scupper an extension by threatening to behave badly, refusing to nominate a commissioner or asking a friendly leader to block one, are unlikely to prove correct. The Economist, "Europe ponders how to avoid blame for no-deal," 12 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

16 Nov 2019

Cite this Entry

“Scupper.” The Dictionary, Merriam-Webster Inc., Accessed 7 December 2019.

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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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