Printable Version
Pronunciation: skêl-dêg-ê-ree Hear it!

Part of Speech: Noun, mass (no plural)

Meaning: Chicanery, shadiness, underhandedness, jiggery-pokery, hanky-panky.

Notes: Given the sense of the original word (for which see below), the current meaning of this funny word is very mild in comparison to its funny look and sound. In the US, one of the Ls is often omitted (skulduggery), but most dictionaries now assert skullduggery to be the preferred spelling. Just remember that this word has double double consonants.

In Play: Using skullduggery instead of sterner words like moral turpitude or deceit is a way to refer to moral depravity more obliquely, more tongue-in-cheek: "What sort of skullduggery did you have to resort to in order to coax Abel Mann away from the Acme Widget Company?" It may be used in a sterner sense though: "The Watergate burglary was but the final twist of a long history of political skullduggery leading up to the US elections of 1972."

Word History: This word is probably an alteration of Scots sculduddery "obscenity, fornication". No one has any idea where it comes from, not even the Scots. When I hear skullduggery, though, I think of pirates and buccaneers, whose symbol was the skull and crossbones, and who were known for digging holes (dig, dug, dug) to bury treasure. Since skullduggery approaches more closely their behavior than the meaning of skullduddery, I think piratical influence must have been involved somewhere in the historical development of skullduggery.

Dr. Goodword,

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