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 scapegoat (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 Many of Gray’s former #StopTheSteal allies had disavowed the insurrection, and a good number of them were using leftist antagonists as their scapegoat. Kaitlyn Tiffany, The Atlantic, "Watching MAGA World Fracture in Real Time," 8 Jan. 2021 Polat's defense attorneys argued that he was used as a scapegoat when Cherif and Said Kouachi, the true authors of the attack, were gunned down by police during a shootout two days following the attack. Spencer Neale, Washington Examiner, "Defendants in Charlie Hebdo case found guilty of complicity to commit terrorist acts," 16 Dec. 2020 And in the midst of a pandemic—one that’s frequently being used to further scapegoat and stigmatize fat people—trying may be a matter of life and death. Your Fat Friend, SELF, "As Coronavirus Rages, We Need to Talk About Medical Anti-Fat Bias," 21 Dec. 2020 Instead, the scapegoat is demonized, forced to bear and incarnate everyone’s guilt, on top of their own. New York Times, "The Long and Tortured History of Cancel Culture," 3 Dec. 2020 For Chad Beebe, the redemptive journey from scapegoat to hero took a matter of minutes Sunday. Chris Bumbaca, USA TODAY, "Vikings receiver Chad Beebe hauls in game-winning TD after muffing punt late in game," 29 Nov. 2020 However, marginalized voters were the easiest targets to scapegoat. Jasely Molina,, "Dear Eva Longoria, Let’s Talk About “The Real Heroines” Of The Election," 11 Nov. 2020 By calling Arizona for Biden earlier than other networks, Fox became a scapegoat for the Trump campaign. Alex Shephard, The New Republic, "Fox News Is in Trouble," 10 Dec. 2020 Chinese leaders were wary about Gao’s relationship with the Americans, who heard rumblings that he would be made the scapegoat for the outbreak. Anchorage Daily News, "Inside the Fall of the CDC," 16 Oct. 2020 Recent Examples on the Web: Verb Still, for me, part of the great promise of Latinx identity is its power to act as an antidote to authoritarianism, which seeks to scapegoat and demonize difference. Washington Post, "A journey across America to explore the heart of the Latinx community," 26 Nov. 2020 In its complaint, Walmart said the DOJ and Drug Enforcement Administration want to scapegoat the company for the federal government’s own regulatory and enforcement shortcomings. Derek Hall, WSJ, "Alphabet, Netflix, Tesla: Stocks That Defined the Week," 24 Oct. 2020 Older generations have been known to scapegoat younger ones for the country’s economic woes. Rebecca Renner, National Geographic, "Millennials and Gen Z are spreading coronavirus—but not because of parties and bars," 17 Sep. 2020 Impoverished Roma communities in Europe have been scapegoated while stuck behind fences erected around their settlements. Ivana Kottasová, CNN, "What you need to know about coronavirus on Saturday, April 25," 25 Apr. 2020 Cynicism about your future prospects, mockery of adult leaders or scapegoating leaves children feeling vulnerable. Wendy Mogel, New York Times, "Talking to Children About Job Loss During the Pandemic," 8 May 2020 The United States is not alone in this regard: anger at China is rising in India (where the country’s Muslim minority has also been scapegoated for the virus’s spread). Amy Davidson Sorkin, The New Yorker, "The Dangerous Coronavirus Conspiracy Theories Targeting 5G Technology, Bill Gates, and a World of Fear," 24 Apr. 2020 Critics charge Trump with scapegoating the WHO for the administration’s failures, while others caution that pulling funding will weaken efforts to combat the pandemic. The Editors, National Review, "Trump Is Right about the WHO," 16 Apr. 2020 Historically, epidemics, especially those involving quarantines, have placed huge burdens on intimate relationships, and the transmission of infectious disease within households has often been used to scapegoat the most vulnerable people. Helena Fitzgerald, The Atlantic, "Coronavirus Risk Doesn’t Stop at Your Front Door," 15 Mar. 2020

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

16 Jan 2021

Cite this Entry

“Scapegoat.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 17 Jan. 2021.

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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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