definition of scapegoat

In the daily use of language we use an infinity of curious expressions and it is useful to know their true meaning as well as their historical origin.

In the present case, a scapegoat is a person who assumes responsibility for something they have not done. In this way, when there is a situation in which there is a culprit of some facts but who exactly is unknown, someone decides to invent a person to, using another common expression, "make him pay the duck" (one could even say "charge him the owl "and other expressions with the same meaning). Whoever becomes the scapegoat is usually the victim of some trick of someone who cleverly makes him responsible for an action even if he is not properly so. With this strategy, the true culprit of some events is spared a possible punishment.

In everyday life it is commonly said that you have to look for a scapegoat. It can also happen that someone who ends up being guilty of something says "I am the scapegoat" to imply that there is a plot against him.

Historical origin

One of the most important celebrations of the Jewish religion is the Day of Atonement, a celebration aimed at the purification of sins. In this context, the Jews sacrificed two goats: one of them was sacrificed as a symbol of the atonement of the Jews and the second was also sacrificed, implying that he bore the evils or faults of the people. The second sacrifice was called "the scapegoat" and this Old Testament expression became popular and was assumed in colloquial usage.

For Judaism the Day of Atonement is known as Yom Kippur and the purpose of this celebration is the true repentance of the believer in order to be reconciled to God.

Expressions and words related to religious tradition

In Latin American countries the religious tradition (both Jewish and especially Catholic) is very present in the language. In fact, in Spanish we use expressions whose origin is found in the Gospels. Some of them are worth mentioning: crying like a Magdalene, being ecce homo, losing the oremus, preaching in the desert, being something of a Maccabean scroll or the return of the prodigal son. Any of them have a biblical origin but are used in contexts that have nothing to do with religious matters.

Apart from some very specific expressions, it should not be forgotten that many words are originally associated with some aspect of religion (heresy, exorcism, exodus, devotion, sacred, dogma and a long etcetera). Consequently, it can be affirmed that our culture and our language is impregnated with religiosity.

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