Some words and phrases we use today still hold their original meanings. Others have evolved into something completely different, their origins disguised by the passage of time. Rediscovering the origins of old words sheds light on their modern meanings.
Today’s meaning: A person who is blamed for the mistakes of others
Real goats may be saddened to learn the origins of “scapegoat,” which was birthed in an ancient Hebrew tradition. Yom Kippur was a day of atonement and the holiest day in the Jewish calendar. Made from the Hebrew words for “goat for Azazel,” “scapegoat” was first used in 1530 by William Tyndale. In Tyndale’s English translation of the Bible, the word “Azazel” only appears in the context of one particular Jewish ritual. Cutting it into two words,
Today’s meaning: A sudden assault against people or objects; out of control
Seen today as a genuine psychiatric condition found in nearly every culture on the planet, the phrase, as well as the idea itself, comes from the tribesmen of theMalay people in the 1700s. Excused as a curse laid down on someone by malevolent spirits, a person who was running amok would often be unable to reason, harming everything within reach until subdued. Sadly, the sufferer was often killed in the process.
In the 1770s, one of the earliest Western depictions of the ailment was given to us by the British explorer James Cook, who wrote about an episode he witnessed firsthand. The psychosis often resulted in the maiming of multiple victims and occurred without warning, cause, or target. The word itself derives from the Malay word mengamok, which roughly translates as “to make a furious and desperate charge.”