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To throw someone under the bus is to shift the blame to them, usually to deflect it from yourself. It involves betrayal and sacrifice, particularly for the sake of personal gain. It is exploiting someone in a vulnerable position, especially when they are sacrificed in front of those in authority. Some sites claim the term comes from baseball while others say Cyndi Lauper, used car salesmen or British politicians invented it.  

Finger pointing

Merriam-Webster says it’s the act of making explicit and often unfair accusations. Finger-pointing is shifting blame away from yourself by drawing attention to someone else. It is similar to the magician’s trick of getting you to look in the wrong place so you won’t see what’s really going on.

A key component of finger pointing is that those who do it would rather make sure someone else gets the blame than try to solve the problem.


In ancient Greece, unfortunates were beaten with sticks and driven out of the city in the belief those actions would protect believers from misfortune. In Rome, priests cut thongs from the hides of sacrificial goats and dogs and beat passing women with them. There were scape-goats, scape-dogs, scape-horses and scape-geese. All were punished for the sins of others and all were innocents.

A story in the Old Testament tells how two goats would be chosen as part of a ritual

One would be killed as a sacrifice. The other would have the sins of the community symbolically placed upon it and released into the wilderness. The goat banished into the wasteland would surely die, as would the sins that had symbolically been placed upon it, thus saving the community of believers. The story that the term escaped goat became shortened to scapegoat sounds good, but some historians think it is probably the result of a mis-translation. Other versions say the goat wasn’t turned loose at all, but thrown off a cliff to its immediate death. Who knows?

In time, scapegoating became a word that described anyone who is made to bear the blame for others

Now it’s the piling on of sins to a substitute who is then expelled from the group in the hope that all the sins it symbolically carries are banished along with it.

Emile Durkheim thought the practice of scapegoating was fundamental to society

One of the founders of modern sociology, he thought every misfortune that causes alarm must have a scapegoat. The knee-jerk reflexive reaction to fear is to turn to the ages-old process of blaming, sacrificing and scapegoating. He believed society’s way of restoring justice to the world is that something must be sacrificed and someone must suffer.

Sigmund Freud called this sort of thing displaced aggression

Simply Psychology says scapegoating is usually triggered by a distressing event and is used as a means of justifying some action, especially those taken by people with unresolved hostilities. The key point here is that people making scapegoats of others don’t confront powerful figures like parents or the boss, but instead beat up on less powerful ones in the manner of the cowardly bully. If you kick the dog because it cannot argue or retaliate, you’re scapegoating. If you’d like to hear Jimmy Driftwood sing You Got To Quit Kickin My Dog Around, click here.

Four types of scapegoating
  • One blames one. This starts in childhood as tattling, the juvenile version of throwing someone under the bus. It wasn’t me, it was him is a strategy lots of kids use to avoid punishment. Often the accusation is a false one. 
  • One blames the group. This individual blames a group that is not the cause of the problems. People of different races, ethnicities and religions are convenient and popular scapegoats for the narrow-minded.
  • The group blames one. A sports team may blame the loss of a contest on one player’s mistake rather than take into account the mistakes made by other players that contributed equally to the loss.
  • The group blames another group. This is the modern divisiveness in American politics, where everyone on our side is good and everyone on their side is evil – according to both sides. 

Top scapegoats of all time, some rightfully so
  • #1. Some religions say the devil is responsible for every bad thing. He gets first place because the struggle between good and evil is constant and never-ending. 
  • #2 (tie). The devil tempted Eve to do wrong and she did. If not for her, we’d all be living in the Garden of Eden. Pandora was given a jar by Zeus, king of all the gods of Mount Olympus, and told not to open it. She disobeyed and all the evils and ills of the world were let loose. If not for Pandora, we’d have no greed, envy, hatred, pain, disease, sorrow, war or death. Have you ever noticed that both these stories share the theme of a perfect world ruined by a woman being curious?
  • #4. Bill Bucker let a roller get by him and the Red Sox lost the 1986 World Series a game later.


You could make the argument that martyrs are people who point fingers at themselves, declare themselves scapegoats and throw themselves under the bus. 


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