What does ‘scarpered’ mean?

Reading time: Less than 1 minute

Increase your vocabulary and you’ll make your writing much more precise. That’s why I provide a word of the week. Today’s word: scarpered…

I don’t read many murder mysteries but when a book is recommended by the New York Times, I’ll consider spending some time with it.

Ruth Ware’s mystery, The Turn of the Key, was one such book. I can’t say I was universally impressed (I found the writing a little weak) but the plot was engaging. And the book gave me my word of the week, scarpered.

Here is how Ware used it:

I’d seen enough of them working at places in London to know the drill— I’d even picked up some emergency work when they scarpered in the night with the return half of their plane ticket, leaving the parents to pick up the pieces.

As you can guess from the context, to scarper means to leave very quickly, often to avoid getting in trouble. The word is considered British slang and its use dates back to 1862. It’s achieved its height of popularity today.

Interestingly, the origin of the word comes from Cockney rhyming slang in which a common word is replaced with a phrase of two or more words, the last of which rhymes with the original word. (In this case, scapa is Italian for escape, and flow rhymes with go.)

Rhyming slang makes the origin and meaning of any phrase elusive to listeners not in the know.