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

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

Manchester United feature again, Arsenal's backup keeper is set for the exit door alongside Chelsea's scapegoat Spaniard, while Liverpool are keen backup between the sticks., "Transfer Rumours: Man Utd Eye Haller, Atletico in for Alonso, Liverpool Want Etheridge & More," 5 June 2019 The conflict pits one protected species against another in an unusual battle that kill-plan proponents say is lopsided in favor of a thriving predator and that opponents say makes the species a scapegoat. Karin Brulliard, Washington Post, "One state’s plan to save a protected species is to kill another species," 11 June 2018 In his speech, Mr. Wang also said governments should counter a rising backlash against globalization by reducing income inequality at home rather than seeking scapegoats abroad. Greg Ip, WSJ, "China’s Vice President Decries Technological Hegemony," 23 Jan. 2019 Facebook is an especially inapt scapegoat for the besetting uncertainties of our age. Holman W. Jenkins, WSJ, "The Scapegoating of Facebook," 20 Nov. 2018 Photo by Bill Ingalls / NASA Northrop Grumman is an easy scapegoat, but many experts argue that the blame for JWST’s woes started in the planning phase. Loren Grush, The Verge, "Why NASA is struggling to get its most powerful space telescope off the ground," 1 Aug. 2018 The Jewish banker-as-scapegoat theme came up repeatedly in conversations with yellow vest marchers Saturday in Paris. Lori Hinnant, The Seattle Times, "French yellow vest movement dogged by intolerance, extremism," 29 Jan. 2019 Intel blamed a number of factors, but China was a high-profile scapegoat. Mark Hachman, PCWorld, "Intel addresses processor shortages, CEO hunt after reporting disappointing fourth-quarter results," 24 Jan. 2019 That means changing the subject from the search for scapegoats. Holman W. Jenkins, WSJ, "The Scapegoating of Facebook," 20 Nov. 2018

Recent Examples on the Web: Verb

He and the other defendants argued that they were being scapegoated for their participation in what had been essentially government policy. Daniel Castro, Harper's magazine, "The Truce," 10 June 2019 The businessman, who also goes by the name Miles Kwok, has denied allegations of wrongdoing and described Mr. Ma as a friend scapegoated by the Chinese government. Chun Han Wong, WSJ, "Former Chinese Official Linked to Exiled Tycoon Gets Life in Prison," 27 Dec. 2018 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

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

15 Jun 2019

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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