- verb to leave hurriedly, run away. The word was adopted by cockneys at the turn of the 20th century, from parlyaree, the Italianate pidgin used by peddlars, showmen, actors, etc. Scappare (to escape) is the original Italian term. Since World War I many have assumed that the word is rhyming slang from ‘Scapa flow’: go.
Origin & History of “scarper”
Scarper entered English in the mid-19th century by way of the underworld slang of criminals, who probably got it from Italian scappare ‘get away’ (a relative of English escape). It remained a subcultural vocabulary item until the early years of the 20th century, and its rise in prominence then may have been partly due to the coincidental cockney rhyming slang use of Scapa Flow (the name of a naval anchorage in the Orkney Islands) for ‘go’. Indeed, from the 1930s onwards scarper has often been spelled scarpa or even scapa.