A plaque remaining from the Big Apple Night Club at West 135th Street and Seventh Avenue in Harlem.

Above, a 1934 plaque from the Big Apple Night Club at West 135th Street and Seventh Avenue in Harlem. Discarded as trash in 2006. Now a Popeyes fast food restaurant on Google Maps.

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Entry from December 18, 2004
"Scofflaw" is now what people are called who don't pay their parking tickets. However, the word "scofflaw" began as the winning word in a Prohibition-era contest to find a name for the illegal drinker.

Delcevare King ran the contest. In January 1924, two people both submitted "scofflaw" and split the $200 prize. However, King was using the term "scoffing at the law" in 1923 and may have tipped his hand.

In 1952 or probably earlier, "scofflaw" was attached to traffic violators.

(Oxford English Dictionary)
[f. SCOFF v.1 + LAW n.1]
One who treats the law with contempt, esp. a person who avoids various kinds of not easily enforceable laws. Also attrib.

1924 Boston Herald 16 Jan. 1/2 Delcevare King of Quincy last night announced that 'scofflaw' is the winning word in the contest for the $200 he offered for a word, to characterize the 'lawless drinker' of illegally made or illegally obtained liquor. 'Scofflaw' was chosen from more than 25,000 words, submitted from all the states and from several foreign countries. The word was sent by two contestants, so the prize will be equally divided between Henry Irving Dale..and Miss Kate L. Butler. 1936 MENCKEN Amer. Lang. (ed. 4) 174 The announcement that scofflaw..had won was made on Jan. 15, 1924. The word came into immediate currency, and survived until the collapse of Prohibition. 1956 N.Y. Times 17 Jan. 27/3 The maximum fine of $50 a ticket was imposed yesterday upon a woman scofflaw who had accumulated fifty-one parking tickets.

Published on Thursday, October 11, 1923

Although the University Glee Club has "washed its hands" of the double quartet whose rendition of "Johnny Harvard" called forth Mr. Delcevare King's criticism, it scarcely seems necessary for the college to disown these men. At the time when this and many other old Harvard songs were written Prohibition had not yet
made the convivial board a rare and clandestine affair. A ban now on all such jolly old songs would be much like the absurd ban on the teaching of German in this country during the war.
If, perhaps, Mr. King would not have all such songs put out of everybody's reach, when would he have them sung? For the songs were written to be sung, not read, I pently if, by his interpretation of the American Bar Association's warning, singing "Johnny Harvard" after the debate was scoffing at the
Prohibition Law, singing it anywhere would likewise be scoffing at the Law.

13 October 1923, New York Herald, pg. 2, col. 3:
Thinks "Johnny Harvard" Is Much Too Wet a Song
Delcevare King, well known social worker and graduate
of Harvard with the class of 1895, in a letter to the Harvard Glee Club today made protest against "Johnny Harvard," which was sung by the university double quartet at the Harvard-Oxford debate in Symphony Hall last Monday evening. Mr. King, who is a member of the American Bar Association, takes exception to the song as one which glorifies drinking and the joys to be
derived from a cup of wine. The song Mr. King calls "the most drinking of drinking songs," and "comes pretty near to scoffing at the prohibition law."

16 January 1924, New York Times, pg. 2:
"Scofflaw" wins prize as stigma for "wets."

11 October 1952, New York Times, pg. 21:
Another traffic violator, William James Tierney, 31, a salesman of 40 Birch Avenue, Farmingdale, N.J., did not fare so well as Mr. Friedman. Calling Tierney a "scofflaw," the Chief Magistrate fined him $360 and sent him away for fifteen days.

5 December 1952, New York Herald Tribune pg. 25, col. 3:
"Scofflaws" Pay
$10,074 in Day
In Traffic Fines

Posted by Barry Popik
Workers/People • (0) Comments • Saturday, December 18, 2004 • Permalink