Here's the second of two requests for etymology I got at work last month: scofflaw. (The first was yesterday.) As the OED puts it, a scofflaw is "One who treats the law with contempt, especially a person who avoids various kinds of not easily enforceable laws."
It's obviously a combination of scoff and law. But where does scoff, which means "to speak derisively, mock, jeer," come from?
The OED says scoff's origins are as a noun, meaning:
- 1a. (Now rare or obsolete) Contemptuous ridicule; expression of scorn; contumelious language, mockery. Phrase, to make scoff.
- 1b. A derisive jest, an expression of mockery.
- 1c. (obsolete) A mere jest.
- 2. An object of contempt or scorn; a mark for derision or scoffing.
The OED says it comes from the "Middle English scof, skof, of obscure origin." The American Heritage Dictionary says it is from the "Middle English scoffen, from scof, meaning mockery, probably of Scandinavian origin, akin to the Danish skof, meaning jest, teasing." Webster's New World says it is from the "Middle English scof, probably from Scandinavian, akin to the Old English scop, meaning singer, and the Old High German skof, meaning poem, ridicule."
The OED says a scop was an "Old English poet or minstrel." Scop and sceop is equivalent to the "Old High German scoph meaning poetry, fiction and sport, jest, derision." There's also the "Old Norse skop, meaning railing, mocking." The OED offers as possibly related the "early modern Danish skuf, skof, meaning jest, mockery; skuffe meaning to jest, mock."