skul·​dug·​gery ˌskəl-ˈdə-g(ə-)rē How to pronounce skulduggery (audio)
variants or skullduggery
plural skulduggeries or skullduggeries
: underhanded or unscrupulous behavior
also : a devious device or trick

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Skulduggery, which can also be spelled "skullduggery," was first documented in the mid-19th century spelled as "scull-duggery." Etymologists aren't sure exactly how the word arrived in English, but they do not believe it has anything to do with skulls. It is possibly derived from the now-very-rare "sculduddery," a term once used to refer to gross or lewd conduct, but unfortunately the origins of that word are also unknown.

Examples of skulduggery in a Sentence

tales of espionage and skulduggery the company's apparently healthy bottom line was merely an illusion, the result of years of accounting skulduggery
Recent Examples on the Web And so the tale of how the Giants established themselves at the Polo Grounds is told, accurately enough, as a piece of complicated capitalist skulduggery in which the team’s desperate owner bought a controlling interest in the Baltimore Orioles and then dragged its stars north. Adam Gopnik, The New Yorker, 25 Mar. 2024 Schiff’s skulduggery was unfortunate but totally rational under the current system. David Daley, The Mercury News, 14 Mar. 2024 This one went smoothly — no claims of rampant rigging, no significant taint of skulduggery — due in large part to the defeat of deepfakes, democracy’s newest enemy. Michael Rogers, Twin Cities, 14 Jan. 2024 In a separate incident of apparent skulduggery in 2007, Belichick was fined a league maximum of $500,000. Bill Pennington, New York Times, 11 Jan. 2024 And the latest corporate skulduggery requires Murderbot to access its creativity in a whole new way. Charlie Jane Anders, Washington Post, 19 Dec. 2023 Yevgeny Prigozhin for years had denied any connection to the Wagner mercenary group and operated discreetly on the margins of Russian power, trading in political skulduggery, cafeteria meals and lethal force. Paul Sonne,, 26 Aug. 2023 In his pre-suspended life, Garcia worked for an anti-Communist, nationalist, Catholic dictatorship, and now must come to terms with a democratic nation — if one in which political skulduggery is nevertheless rife — even as certain elements try to bring him down. Robert Lloyd, Los Angeles Times, 15 June 2023 But in this case, it could also be seen as a slap to Representative Peter Meijer, the incumbent in the Grand Rapids-area district who braved blowback from his own party over his vote to impeach Mr. Trump and is now fighting skulduggery from the right and the left. Jonathan Weisman, New York Times, 26 July 2022

These examples are programmatically compiled from various online sources to illustrate current usage of the word 'skulduggery.' Any opinions expressed in the examples do not represent those of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback about these examples.

Word History


origin unknown

First Known Use

1845, in the meaning defined above

Time Traveler
The first known use of skulduggery was in 1845


Dictionary Entries Near skulduggery

Cite this Entry

“Skulduggery.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 23 Jun. 2024.

Kids Definition


variants or skullduggery
plural skulduggeries
: sneaky or dishonest behavior : trickery
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