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Scofflaw is a noun coined during the Prohibition era to mean a person who drinks illegally. It is a compound of the words scoff and law. Its original meaning was someone who mocks or ridicules anti-drinking laws, but has extended to mean one who flouts any law, especially those difficult to enforce, and particularly traffic laws.


"Scofflaw" was the winning entry of a nationwide competition to create a new word for "the lawless drinker," with a prize of $200 in gold, sponsored by Delcevare King, a banker and enthusiastic supporter of Prohibition, in 1923.[1] Two separate entrants, Henry Irving Dale and Kate L. Butler, submitted the word, and split the $200 prize equally. Scofflaw was deemed the best and most suitable out of over 25,000 entries.[2] The word was from the outset frequently used until the eventual repeal of Prohibition in 1933. It experienced a revival in the 1950s, as a term for anyone who displays disdain for laws difficult to enforce. The word itself remains a symbol of the Prohibition era.


"The Scofflaw" is the name of the 99th episode of Seinfeld.

The second part of the three-part documentary Prohibition is titled A Nation of Scofflaws and documents the origin and use of the word.[2]

A New York Times investigation into the ship Dona Liberta is titled Stowaways and Crimes Aboard a Scofflaw Ship.[3]


  1. ^ "DELCEVARE KING, BANKER, 89 DEAD; Prohibitionist's Contest Led to Coining of 'Scofflaw'". March 22, 1964 – via
  2. ^ a b "Ken Burns: Prohibition". PBS. Retrieved July 28, 2013. CS1 maint: discouraged parameter (link)
  3. ^ "Stowaways and Crimes Aboard a Scofflaw Ship". The New York Times. 19 July 2015.

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