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 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 Instead, Pez Outlaw goes for a tale of sugar-fueled, globetrotting skulduggery in which the stakes are exclusively personal. Daniel Fienberg, The Hollywood Reporter, 12 Mar. 2022 The contention goes stronger than ever with so many suspicions of skulduggery bolstered by sworn affidavits from those claiming to have witnessed just that during their election assignments on Election Day. Mike Masterson, Arkansas Online, 15 Nov. 2020 The case of the grandma apprehended by federal agents in a Riverside County Denny's with a moonrock paperweight, explored at length in an AP exclusive , is a fitting entry in this pantheon of interplanetary skulduggery. Veronique Greenwood, Discover Magazine, 24 Oct. 2011 The courtroom scenes remain gratifyingly sharp, and the skulduggery levels reach maximum impact. Sarah Weinman, New York Times, 23 Sep. 2022 The arsenic levels were similar to those found in hair samples from his wife and child--suggesting mundane arsenic sources (the stuff appeared in everything from makeup to tonics) rather than skulduggery. Discover Magazine, 7 Feb. 2011 See More

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 29 Nov. 2023.

Kids Definition


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