Word of the Day

scoff

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Liz Potter
Written by Liz Potter

Definition

1. to laugh or say things to show that you think someone or something is stupid or deserves no respect

2. (British) to eat a lot of something very quickly



View the full definition in the Macmillan Dictionary.

Origin and usage

The two meanings of the verb scoff have different origins. The first meaning comes from a Middle English noun ‘scof’ or ‘skof’ meaning mockery. The noun was first used in the early 14th century, with the verb coming into use at the end of that century. The eating-related sense, meanwhile, is much more recent, being first used at the end of the 18th century. It derives from a dialect word ‘scaff’ meaning to eat voraciously.

Examples

The intransitive verb to scoff is used in both British and American English and is frequently followed by the preposition ‘at’; so you can scoff at someone or something, or you can just scoff generally. The American term ‘scofflaw‘ refers to someone who does not obey laws (i.e. someone who scoffs at them) and is labelled ‘mainly journalism’. The transitive verb to scoff, meaning to eat a lot of something, is used only in British English and is informal. It is part of a large group of words and expressions meaning ‘to eat a lot or too much’ which you can explore here. If you want to explore further, the ‘Explore related meanings’ box contains links to entries for words that describe eating in a particular way, words for how animals eat, and more.

Quotations

“Truth from his lips prevailed with double sway, And fools, who came to scoff, remained to pray.”
(Oliver Goldsmith, The Vicar of Wakefield)

“This dull product of a scoffer‘s pen.”
(Wordsworth on Voltaire’s ‘Candide’)

Related words

jeer, mock, ridicule

gobble, gorge, guzzle, scarf

Browse related words in the Macmillan Thesaurus.

About the author

Liz Potter

Liz Potter

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