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

The constant mimetic jousting in society creates tensions, which brings us to the second Girardian contribution: the scapegoat. Susan Crawford, WIRED, "Mark Zuckerberg Plays the Scapegoat for Our Facebook Sins," 17 Apr. 2018 The Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries makes an easy scapegoat for American politicians. Clifford Krauss, New York Times, "Trump Criticizes OPEC, Calling Oil Prices ‘Artificially’ High," 20 Apr. 2018 There was no villain here, nobody to blame, no need for a scapegoat or an effigy. Rory Smith, New York Times, "Croatia Digs Deeper, Burying England’s World Cup Dreams," 12 July 2018 Indeed, Gubarev’s lawyer has repeatedly suggested his client might have been framed by a competitor or someone looking for a scapegoat in the computer business. Washington Post, "Some questions in Trump-Russia dossier now finding answers," 29 June 2018 Wlodarczak said Combes had been a scapegoat as far as the financial results and couldn’t be held responsible for Altice’s problems in France. Mark Davis, kansascity, "Sprint’s ‘baby-sitting’ CEO Michel Combes: ‘I’m a long-term guy’," 31 May 2018 Joan Miralles, the president of Habtur, an association that represents homeowners who rent to tourists, said local politicians have made Airbnb the scapegoat for their failure to control the tourism boom and to build more affordable housing. Raphael Minder, New York Times, "To Contain Tourism, One Spanish City Strikes a Ban, on Airbnb," 23 June 2018 In Washington, an American flag billowed against a backdrop of the Capitol as attendees said guns are being used as scapegoats and that society’s problems run deeper than firearms. Mark Guarino, Washington Post, "Small, student-led rallies show support for gun rights," 7 July 2018 McCarthy has cast himself as a scapegoat in that case, but says this is not a revenge campaign. Fox News, "Top cop fired by Rahm Emanuel talks mayoral candidacy," 12 June 2018

Recent Examples on the Web: Verb

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 This is a case where codes have not been enforced dating back 20 years, which in my opinion has led to responsible operators like myself being unjustly and erroneously scapegoated, demonized and harassed., "Responsible sober-home operators are being erroneously scapegoated," 22 May 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

19 Oct 2018

Look-up Popularity

Time Traveler for scapegoat

The first known use of scapegoat was in 1530

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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

What made you want to look up scapegoat? Please tell us where you read or heard it (including the quote, if possible).


playful or foolish behavior

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