scape·​goat | \ ˈskāp-ˌgōt How to pronounce scapegoat (audio) \

Definition of scapegoat

 (Entry 1 of 2)

1 : a goat upon whose head are symbolically placed the sins of the people after which he is sent into the wilderness in the biblical ceremony for Yom Kippur
2a : one that bears the blame for others
b : one that is the object of irrational hostility


scapegoated; scapegoating; scapegoats

Definition of scapegoat (Entry 2 of 2)

transitive verb

: to make a scapegoat of

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Other Words from scapegoat


scapegoatism \ ˈskāp-​ˌgō-​ˌti-​zəm How to pronounce scapegoatism (audio) \ noun

Synonyms for scapegoat

Synonyms: Noun

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The History of Scapegoat

Scapegoat has a fascinating history. Today the word is used to refer to one who is wrongly blamed for something, but it originated with an actual goat.

In the Jewish and Christian Scriptures, God ordained a particular day during which the entire nation of Israel would set aside work, and during which the priests would atone for the sin of the whole nation. Among the rituals prescribed was the scapegoat:

And Aaron shall cast lots upon the two goats; one lot for the Lord, and the other lot for the scapegoat. And Aaron shall bring the goat upon which the Lord’s lot fell, and offer him for a sin offering. But the goat, on which the lot fell to be the scapegoat, shall be presented alive before the Lord, to make an atonement with him, and to let him go for a scapegoat into the wilderness. —Leviticus 16:8-10, KJV

The scapegoat carried the sin of the people away with it, thereby cleansing Israel for another year.

The English scapegoat is a compound of the archaic verb scape, which means "escape," and goat, and is modeled on a misreading of the Hebrew ʽazāzēl (which is probably the name of a demon) as ʽēz 'ōzēl , "the goat that departs." More modern translations render scapegoat in this text as Azazel, but the misreading endured and has entered the lexicon.

Examples of scapegoat in a Sentence

Noun The CEO was made the scapegoat for the company's failures. companies often use the economy as a scapegoat to avoid taking responsibility for dropping sales
Recent Examples on the Web: Noun Democrats get a villain and scapegoat to blame for their legislative failures. Brian Riedl, National Review, "Senate Republicans Are Not ‘Obstructionist’," 9 Jan. 2020 And in 2020 reliance on the ECB may bring a new danger, as Mr Trump, in search of scapegoats for America’s economic slowdown, points to the ECB’s negative rates as an unfair trade advantage. The Economist, "Buckle up for America’s ugly election and faltering economy," 25 Dec. 2019 He was essentially being used as a scapegoat for general manager Scott Perry and president Steve Mills for weeks., "You're using a browser set to private or incognito mode.," 7 Dec. 2019 Figgins told reporters on Monday that his client was a scapegoat for the Federal Bureau of Prisons and pointed to systemic issues about staffing and supervision. Sanya Mansoor, Time, "Prosecutors to Present 'Hundreds of Hours of Video' Related to Jeffrey Epstein Death at Jail Guards' Trial," 25 Nov. 2019 There’s still an ongoing conversation among some people about Art Briles being a scapegoat and that doesn’t necessarily help me think things have changed there. Dan Wolken, USA TODAY, "Opinion: Baylor football back on top four years after sexual assault scandal rocked campus," 15 Nov. 2019 Gorbachev at least proved willing to listen to experts instead of immediately looking for scapegoats. Kyle Smith, National Review, "Chernobyl: Devastating Indictment of Socialism, Not Trumpism," 5 June 2019 The developers sued, accusing officials of making their project a scapegoat as voters clamored for action after disastrous flooding. John Schwartz, New York Times, "As Climate Risk Grows, Cities Test a Tough Strategy: Saying ‘No’ to Developers," 20 Nov. 2019 Those arguments have set up Sondland and Giuliani — as the emissaries who conveyed the conditions to the Ukrainians — as potential scapegoats if Trump's allies can successfully portray them as acting on their own volition and not on Trump's behalf. Josh Lederman, NBC News, "Sondland testimony targets Trump, Pompeo and confirms deal with Ukraine," 20 Nov. 2019 Recent Examples on the Web: Verb We were scapegoated by this president as a way to win the last election. Marco Della Cava, USA TODAY, "In California's 2020 primary, Latino voters could help Democrats defeat President Trump," 15 Nov. 2019 Refugee advocates say the Syrians are actually a boon to the economy and are being unfairly scapegoated. Washington Post, "Turkey’s Erdogan presses offensive in Syria boosted by a nationalist surge at home," 14 Oct. 2019 Maret defenders believe they’re being scapegoated for Washington’s general lack of field space — unfairly maligned by a vicious smear campaign on social media, not to mention the scathing comments on the DC Urban Moms and Dads site. Graham Vyse, Washington Post, "How a fight over a city athletic field turned into a woke-off of Washington’s well-off," 9 Dec. 2019 Defenders say she is being unfairly scapegoated, when others with ties to Epstein have barely faced censure, let alone ruin. Ben Widdicombe, Town & Country, "Tarnished by Epstein Scandal, Power Publicist Peggy Siegal Attempts a Hollywood Comeback," 6 Nov. 2019 Her supporters suspect she is being scapegoated to pay back Mr Macron for thwarting the centre-right group leader’s ambition of running the commission. The Economist, "Two European Commission nominees fall at the first hurdle," 3 Oct. 2019 In fact, many in the film community believe she has been unfairly scapegoated for Epstein’s sins. Ben Widdicombe, Town & Country, "Tarnished by Epstein Scandal, Power Publicist Peggy Siegal Attempts a Hollywood Comeback," 6 Nov. 2019 And there's a tendency to scapegoat foreign policy, scapegoat trade and so forth. CBS News, "Transcript: Richard Haass talks with Michael Morell on "Intelligence Matters"," 25 Sep. 2019 Most seem content to scapegoat Syrian refugees, instead of taking responsibility for their own failures. The Economist, "Politicians are stoking anti-refugee sentiment in Lebanon," 22 Aug. 2019

These example sentences are selected automatically from various online news sources to reflect current usage of the word 'scapegoat.' Views expressed in the examples do not represent the opinion of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback.

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First Known Use of scapegoat


1530, in the meaning defined at sense 1


1943, in the meaning defined above

History and Etymology for scapegoat


scape entry 1; intended as translation of Hebrew ʽazāzēl (probably name of a demon), as if ʽēz 'ōzēl goat that departs—Leviticus 16:8 (King James Version)

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The first known use of scapegoat was in 1530

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Last Updated

12 Jan 2020

Cite this Entry

“Scapegoat.” The Dictionary, Merriam-Webster Inc., Accessed 17 January 2020.

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More Definitions for scapegoat


How to pronounce scapegoat (audio)

English Language Learners Definition of scapegoat

: a person who is unfairly blamed for something that others have done

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Comments on scapegoat

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a plan in which a last survivor takes all

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