scape·​goat | \ ˈskāp-ˌgōt \

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 \ noun

Synonyms for scapegoat

Synonyms: Noun

fall guy, goat, whipping boy

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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


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

Usually, an England elimination from a major tournament is followed up by a sharp search to find a scapegoat for what's gone wrong., "England: Who Is to Blame?," 12 July 2018 Trump has already pinpointed scapegoats for the stock market’s recent troubles. Emily Stewart, Vox, "Now that the stock market is down, Trump wants to take credit for oil prices," 27 Nov. 2018 But the major scapegoat is one that's been a popular punching bag lately: sedans. Ezra Dyer, Popular Mechanics, "The Sedan Continues to Die as GM Cuts Production," 26 Nov. 2018 In Hispanic immigrants, Trump gave them a scapegoat. Jennifer Wright, Harper's BAZAAR, "Why Stripping U.S. Citizens of Their Passports Is a Precursor to Genocide," 7 Sep. 2018 One is thrown under the bus when they are made the scapegoat or blamed for something that wasn’t their responsibility in the first place. Kathryn Crawford Saxer, The Seattle Times, "Be brave: Don’t throw co-workers under the bus (or give my dog ice cream)," 8 Oct. 2018 That case has been plagued with speculation that two migrant workers from Myanmar convicted and sentenced to death for the crime were scapegoats. Fox News, "Thai police arrest 12 for sharing Facebook rape allegation," 6 Sep. 2018 And like witches, or vampires, or any of the world’s numerous magical figures, fairies were scapegoats. Longreads, "Fairy Scapegoats: A History of the Persecution of Changeling Children," 9 June 2018 Communications insiders said retaining Cohen was business as usual and Quinn had been made a scapegoat. Susan Crawford, WIRED, "Net Neutrality Is Just a Gateway to the Real Issue: Internet Freedom," 18 May 2018

Recent Examples on the Web: Verb

To some tech workers, targeting their free food feels more like scapegoating for the city’s problems than like sound policy. Nellie Bowles, The Seattle Times, "San Francisco officials to tech workers: Leave the office, buy your lunch," 31 July 2018 Inciting violence, personal attacks, demonizing the press, scapegoating religious and minority groups, lying about facts, threatening political opponents and praising murderous dictators weaken democracy. Paul Thornton,, "Be uncivil. Resist Trump. But don't go crazy," 30 June 2018 Some white parents complained that the nation’s oldest public high school was being unfairly scapegoated. Adrian Walker,, "Another BPS superintendent has come and gone. Now what?," 1 July 2018 Or that your sensitivity will get scapegoated or exploited by less feeling types? Bess Matassa, Teen Vogue, "Weekly Horoscopes July 2-8," 29 June 2018 The Bush connection is a huge negative mark in Trump World, and Politico reports that some of Trump’s allies are trying to use this to scapegoat Nielsen. Margaret Hartmann, Daily Intelligencer, "John Kelly Doesn’t Care Enough to Save Trump From Himself," 19 June 2018 And here’s a look at the Petco Park-era hitting coaches, all of them scapegoats for offenses that have struggled since moving into the downtown venue. Jeff Sanders,, "First pitch: Jordan Lyles picked to start in Saturday's doubleheader," 2 Sep. 2017 Since then, Trump has iced out Muslims and scapegoated our community for his own political gain. Ziad Ahmed, Teen Vogue, "The 2018 Iftar Dinner at the White House Wasn’t Really for American Muslims," 7 June 2018 When there is no one to scapegoat or to scream spittle at, then what? Sally Jenkins,, "The Eagles beat Donald Trump by doing what the NFL owners wouldn't: Ignore him," 6 June 2018

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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Statistics for scapegoat

Last Updated

28 Dec 2018

Look-up Popularity

Time Traveler for scapegoat

The first known use of scapegoat was in 1530

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More Definitions for scapegoat



English Language Learners Definition of scapegoat

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

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a complex dispute or argument

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