skul·​dug·​gery | \ ˌskəl-ˈdə-g(ə-)rē How to pronounce skulduggery (audio) , ˈskəl-ˌdə-\
variants: or skullduggery
plural skulduggeries

Definition of skulduggery

: underhanded or unscrupulous behavior also : a devious device or trick

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Did You Know?

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

Ahead of this year’s event, on August 25th, organisers are hoping for scurrying without skulduggery. The Economist, "Why the Mexico City marathon attracts so many cheats," 22 Aug. 2019 At the very least, this skulduggery offers a contrast to the efforts which preceded it. Matt Ford, The New Republic, "Trump’s Quiet Attack on Redistricting," 19 Aug. 2019 That early broom-fight fantasy displays the energy and resourcefulness that will help Jane (Anne Flowers, channeling bland pluckiness) triumph over high-seas dangers and Jolly Roger skulduggery. Celia Wren, Washington Post, "Jane Hawkins takes center stage in Synetic’s reimagined ‘Treasure Island’," 24 July 2019 While some federal agencies knew of the skulduggery, little was done about it, largely because the Nixon and Ford administrations were concerned with strategic ties to South Korea, an ally of the United States. Robert D. Mcfadden, New York Times, "Donald M. Fraser, Lawmaker Who Bared a South Korea Plot, Dies at 95," 3 June 2019 Thus, whenever an autocrat makes a stirring speech about national pride, his real aim may be to deflect attention from his own skulduggery. The Economist, "After decades of triumph, democracy is losing ground," 14 June 2018 Sarah Paulson, always good at projecting steely efficiency, arrives late in the game as Tammy, a suburban housewife who turns out to be a master of corporate skulduggery. Justin Chang,, "Sandra Bullock and Cate Blanchett pull off an enjoyable, low-fizz heist in 'Ocean's 8'," 6 June 2018 But whatever their official job titles, fictional TV fixers share an ability to crank up dramatic tension through the ruthless practice of skulduggery-for-hire. Hugh Hart,, "Be it 'Ray Donovan,' 'Billions' or 'Trust,' TV's fixers crank up the tension," 6 June 2018 Democrats lacked the votes to filibuster, and their grilling of Gorsuch wasn’t so much an indictment of his credentials as a spasm against the skulduggery that got him there. Simon Van Zuylen-wood, Daily Intelligencer, "How Neil Gorsuch Became the Second-Most-Polarizing Man in Washington," 28 May 2018

These example sentences are selected automatically from various online news sources to reflect current usage of the word 'skulduggery.' 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 skulduggery

1856, in the meaning defined above

History and Etymology for skulduggery

origin unknown

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Dictionary Entries near skulduggery







skull and crossbones

Statistics for skulduggery

Last Updated

27 Aug 2019

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Time Traveler for skulduggery

The first known use of skulduggery was in 1856

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English Language Learners Definition of skulduggery

old-fashioned : secret or dishonest behavior or activity

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a topic to which one constantly reverts

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