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

Other Words from scapegoat


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

Synonyms for scapegoat

Synonyms: Noun

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On Yom Kippur, the ancient Hebrews would sacrifice one goat for the Lord and lead another one into the wilderness bearing the sins of the people. The ceremony is described in Leviticus, where it is said that one lot shall be cast for the Lord and one for "Azazel." Modern scholars usually interpret Azazel as being the name of a demon living in the desert, but ancient biblical translators thought Azazel referred to the goat itself, apparently confusing it with the Hebrew phrase ez ozel, meaning "goat that departs." The mistranslation was carried through Greek and Latin into a 16th-century English translation, where the word for the goat was rendered as scapegoote; that is, "goat that escapes." The extended senses of scapegoat we use today evolved from this biblical use.

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 President Biden has found a scapegoat for rising inflation: the meat industry. Andy Puzder, WSJ, 9 Jan. 2022 The signs sparked outrage from some cyclists, who saw themselves as a scapegoat for safety issues on the county's more narrow trails. Jay R. Jordan, Chron, 29 Dec. 2021 More on Ghislaine Maxwell trial:Jeffrey Epstein's chief enabler or 'scapegoat for a man who behaved badly'? Tom Hays, USA TODAY, 1 Dec. 2021 The main argument the defense painted was that Maxwell was a kind of scapegoat to deliver justice to women deprived of their main villain, when Epstein died in prison while awaiting trial in 2019. Taylor Wilson, USA TODAY, 31 Dec. 2021 The defense used a three-pronged approach to poke holes in the various statements the accusers have given to government officials over the years, and presented Maxwell as a scapegoat following Epstein's death. Clare Hymes, CBS News, 31 Dec. 2021 So far, Maxwell's lawyers have attempted to poke holes in the witnesses' stories and suggested Maxwell is being made into a scapegoat for Epstein's crimes. Grayson Quay, The Week, 11 Dec. 2021 Maxwell is not expected to testify, although her lawyers have offered a spirited defense, portraying her as a scapegoat targeted by the government because prosecutors could no longer bring Epstein to justice. Larry Neumeister And Tom Hays,, 17 Dec. 2021 Biden’s decision to pick Powell comes as many progressives have begun to publicly complain that they are being purposefully left out of Biden administration decisions, and then used as the scapegoat when things fall apart. Nicole Goodkind, Fortune, 22 Nov. 2021 Recent Examples on the Web: Verb Democrats like James Carville love to scapegoat Black people. Michael Arceneaux, Essence, 11 Nov. 2021 Ultimately, Chatman believes, his persistence led the U. to scapegoat him and attempt to ruin his reputation in law enforcement. Courtney Tanner, The Salt Lake Tribune, 30 Aug. 2021 The lawsuit, which accused the department and the Drug Enforcement Administration of trying to scapegoat the company for their own regulatory shortcomings, was dismissed by a judge in the Eastern District of Texas in February. Dylan Tokar, WSJ, 18 Aug. 2021 In the days immediately after thousands of Donald Trump supporters stormed the U.S. Capitol building, some conservatives tried to scapegoat antifa activists. Daniel Funke, USA TODAY, 11 Sep. 2020 And President Trump wanted to scapegoat us again on the virus and the hate virus. Cecilia Lei, San Francisco Chronicle, 23 June 2021 Beijing reacted angrily to the claim, accusing Trump of trying to scapegoat China for his own failure to contain the outbreak domestically. Jessie Yeung, CNN, 28 May 2021 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, 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, 24 Oct. 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 2022

Cite this Entry

“Scapegoat.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 24 Jan. 2022.

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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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Nglish: Translation of scapegoat for Spanish Speakers

Britannica English: Translation of scapegoat for Arabic Speakers Encyclopedia article about scapegoat


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