What is the origin of the word "scapegoat" ?

I use it all the time, but I wonder where did that word come from?

It's sounds like there's a interesting origin behind it. :)

2 Answers

  • 1 decade ago
    Favourite answer


    Coined by Tyndale from scape +‎ goat, mis-translating Hebrew עזאזל (“Azazel”) (Leviticus 16:8, 10, 26), from an interpretation as coming from עז (ez, “goat”) and אוזל (ozél, “escapes”). First attested 1530.


    The Hebrew word for the goat set free in the original Biblical text was "Azazel." Translators of the Bible into English interpreted "Azazel" as a variant on the Hebrew phrase for "goat that departs," and thus came up with "escape goat." But it's possible that they were mistaken. "Azazel" was, some authorities believe, the name of a powerful demon who was believed to rule the wilderness. The "escape goat," goes this theory, was designated "Azazel's goat" in the ritual, and the priest was actually loading all the sins onto the demon's goat and then booting it out the door.

    In any case, "scapegoat" entered the English language with Tyndale's translation of the Bible in 1530, and by the early 19th century was being used in a secular sense to describe anyone who is blamed for the sins or faults of another. The irony here is that in the original ceremony the "scapegoat" was set free without punishment, while modern "scapegoats" endure all the punishment deserved by others.



    The word "Scapegoat" is a mistranslation of the word Azazel (In Hebrew: עזאזל) originated by William Tyndale in his 1530 Bible, and appropriated in the King James Version of the Bible (Leviticus chapter 16) in 1611. Confounded by the word, Tyndale had interpreted Azazel as ez ozel - literally, "the goat that departs"; hence "(e)scape goat." According to the Talmud, Yoma 67b, Azazel is a contraction of az (harsh) and eil (strong) and refers to the most rugged of mountains. This identification is supported by Rashi, the great Medieval grammarian, who interpreted Azazel to be the name of a specific mountain or cliff over which the goat was driven[4]. According to R.H. Charles, it was called so for its reputation as the holding place of the fallen angel of the same name. Modern scholars generally reject Tyndale's interpretation and favor one related to a fallen angel/evil demon interpretation. Today in modern Hebrew Azazel is used derogatorily, as in lekh la-Azazel ("go to Azazel"), as in "go to hell" or ma la-Azazel? ("what to Azazel?"), as in "what the hell?".



  • Anonymous
    4 years ago

    I'm not British, but I should think it's the context that defines how the word is used. Just as "***" is a specific term for an animal, as well as a rather rude term for the buttocks, "bloody" can mean blood-soaked, or it can be used as an oath. According to the Online Etymology Dictionary, it has been "a British intens. swear word since at least 1676." That source goes on to report "that it was "respectable" before c.1750, and it was used by Fielding and Swift, but heavily tabooed c.1750-c.1920, perhaps from imagined association with menstruation; Johnson calls it "very vulgar..." Eric Partridge, in Words, Words, Words (Methuen, 1933), suggests six possible origins, prompting the idea that blood is simply vivid or distressing as the most probable. He also downplays the suggestion that it originates from "by our Lady" (an invocation of the Virgin Mary) as being phonetically unlikely (to whit I agree). I've also heard it said that it comes from an old oath, "God's blood," (i.e., the blood that was shed by Jesus when He died upon the cross). The Oxford Dictionary of English Etymology says this is "probably" the origin, but the OED says "there is no ground for the notion". In short, we may never know for certain of the origin.

Still have questions? Get answers by asking now.