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Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day

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Build your vocabulary with Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day! Each day a Merriam-Webster editor offers insight into a fascinating new word -- explaining its meaning, current use, and little-known details about its origin.

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scupper

September 12th, 2015

Episode 317 of 720 episodes

Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for September 12, 2015 is: scupper \SKUP-er\ verb : (British) to defeat or put an end to : do in Examples: "Arsenal's hopes of signing summer target William Carvalho appear to have been scuppered after the Sporting Lisbon midfielder was ruled out for three months." The Telegraph (London), 15 July 2015 "The election of Jeremy Corbyn as leader of the Labour Party could scupper plans for a third runway at Heathrow Airport after he came out against the project." Andrew Grice, The Independent (London), 1 Aug. 2015 Did you know? All efforts to figure out where this verb came from have been defeated, including attempts to connect it to the noun scupper, a 600-year-old word for a drain opening in the side of a ship. (One conjecture, that the blood of shipboard battle was "scuppered" when it was washed down the scuppers, unfortunately lacks backing in the form of any actual evidence of the verb used this way.) All we know for sure is that scupper meant "to ambush and massacre" in 19th-century military slang and developed its extended uses of "defeat" and "do in" in the early-mid 20th century. The more common modern application to things rather than people being done in or defeated didn't appear until the second half of the 20th century.

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