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scape·​goat ˈskāp-ˌgōt How to pronounce scapegoat (audio)
: 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
: one that bears the blame for others
: one that is the object of irrational hostility


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scapegoated; scapegoating; scapegoats

transitive verb

: to make a scapegoat of
scapegoatism noun

Did you know?

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.

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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
To put me as the scapegoat for him for losing his faith? Dory Jackson, Peoplemag, 2 Oct. 2023 The Jews have been a reliable societal scapegoat for well over 2,000 years. Miles Klee, Rolling Stone, 19 Sep. 2023 If nothing else, these efforts served as convenient scapegoats for the Democrats’ losses. Andrew Cockburn, Harper's Magazine, 10 Sep. 2023 Bart Jansen: During the trial, Tarrio's lawyers suggested that he was being made a scapegoat in the attack after, then-President Donald Trump inflamed the mob with his speech near the White House and then directed his supporters to the Capitol. Taylor Wilson, USA TODAY, 6 Sep. 2023 Robin Nelson-Bailey’s attorney argued that his client was used as a scapegoat by the Brandeis as the university faced public backlash for its delay in addressing the allegations of racist and abusive behavior against former men's basketball coach Brian Meehan, seen at left of center. Nick Stoico,, 2 Sep. 2023 In a country still reeling with economic crisis and looking for scapegoats, the refugees are subjected to restrictions on their economic participation as well as political rants by sectarian leaders. Dominique Soguel, The Christian Science Monitor, 27 June 2023 In some ways, France is an easy scapegoat for cynical army men. Ishaan Tharoor, Washington Post, 1 Sep. 2023 The opposite of the golden child is the scapegoat: a child who gets blamed for everything that goes wrong, including for things that are the narcissist's fault. USA TODAY, 16 Aug. 2023
For example, a narcissistic father may scapegoat a son who doesn't have traditional masculine qualities valued by the narcissist, Durvasula says. USA TODAY, 16 Aug. 2023 Some analysts said the law was meant to scapegoat gay people and distract the public from mounting domestic challenges, including rising unemployment and skyrocketing food prices. Abdi Latif Dahir, New York Times, 29 May 2023 In court documents filed last month, the ex-producer accused Fox lawyers of trying to scapegoat her and Bartiromo for the network’s lie-peddling about the 2020 election and voting system companies like Dominion. Prem Thakker, The New Republic, 24 Apr. 2023 Defense attorneys responded that prosecutors made the five men scapegoats for Trump, who incited an unplanned riot, and for law enforcement leaders who failed to respond effectively. Tom Jackman, Washington Post, 24 Apr. 2023 None of this is meant to scapegoat any particular player or players, when everyone is culpable to some degree. Mark Deeks, Forbes, 31 Mar. 2023 But to scapegoat law-abiding Italian citizens? Harold Maass, The Week, 28 May 2021 Those who scapegoat choose targets that feel safe to blame, Stewart said. Katherine Kam, Washington Post, 19 July 2022 Asian residents say the legislation uses national security as a guise to further target and scapegoat their communities. Sakshi Venkatraman, NBC News, 16 Feb. 2023 See More

These examples are programmatically compiled from various online sources to illustrate current usage of the word 'scapegoat.' Any opinions expressed in the examples do not represent those of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback about these examples.

Word History



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)

First Known Use


1530, in the meaning defined at sense 1


1943, in the meaning defined above

Time Traveler
The first known use of scapegoat was in 1530


Dictionary Entries Near scapegoat

Cite this Entry

“Scapegoat.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 4 Oct. 2023.

Kids Definition


: a person or thing taking the blame for others

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