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Definition: A person who habitually flouts or violates the law.

Pronunciation: scoff-LAHW


The word scofflaw was created in 1924 in response to a contest by the Boston Herald to find a word that best described a person who ignored Prohibition and continued to drink alcohol- thus flouting their disobedience to the law.  There were two winners to the competition which had more than 25,000 entries.  Henry Irving Dale and Kate L. Butler both entered the word scofflaw separately, and split the $200 prize.

Why this word?

This word is interesting to me because of the way in which it came into being.  It was created for a competition, not derived from some other language centuries ago.  It is a recent invention not a linguistic artifact.  I think that words which were created more recently can show more about our culture- in this case, an obsession with law and order as well as inebriation.

How to use the word scofflaw?

“Don’t be such a scofflaw! Throw your trash in the barrel, not on the ground.”

“My friend insists she doesn’t have to clean up after her dog, that that was what nature intended.  I’ve tried to tell her it’s not okay to be a scofflaw but she won’t listen.”

“I was just acting as any good scofflaw would have done.”


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Written by Kate Fulton

Kate Fulton has a bachelor’s degree in classics and psychology from the University of Massachusetts and is working on a library science degree from Simmons College. She has always been fascinated by words- their usage, spelling, and etymology. Kate may be one of the few people who enjoyed the verbal section of the SAT. Yes, she is a word geek. Currently she bores her husband and young daughter with her love of vocabulary.


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