• scofflaw •
skahf-law • Hear it!
Part of Speech: Noun
Meaning: A person who habitually and contemptuously breaks the law; someone who fails to respond to arrest warrants and summonses.
Notes: The head of an English compound is almost always at the end with its modifier preceding it. The head always tells us the category of the compound so that a houseboat is a kind of boat while a boathouse is a kind of house. A few rogue compounds like today's Good Word, however, do not follow this rule: a pickpocket is not a pocket but someone who picks and a scofflaw is not a law but someone who scoffs. The head in these words comes first. A handful of these compounds, such as spendthrift, cutthroat, do-nothing, and scarecrow, has survived the pits and falls of time.
In Play: Today scofflaw most commonly to refers to acts of petty disobedience: "That old scofflaw Hooker Crooke had a roll of 50 parking tickets in the glove compartment of his car." However, it stills bears the connotation of contempt for the law: "Corporate scofflaws think their high position makes them more likely to escape prosecution than their more lowly brethren involved in petty crime."
Word History: Today's Good Word made it to the English vocabulary by winning a contest! In 1923 a wealthy prohibitionist, Delcevare King of Quincy, Massachusetts, offered $200 for a word that would best describe "a lawless drinker of illegally made or illegally obtained liquor." On January 15, 1924 the Boston Herald declared scofflaw the winner. This word had been submitted by two of the 25,000 contestants, Henry Dale and Kate Butler, who divided the $200 prize between them. (We thank Colin Burt for scoffing the scofflaws and suggesting this unusual English noun for today's Good Word.)