Errors & Omissions: If you're looking for a scapegoat, make sure you are in the right place

 

In a time when nobody is ever held personally responsible for anything, and all we have to do after any disaster is "make sure that the lessons are learnt", the word "scapegoat" has undergone a change.

This week everybody, including this newspaper, has been calling the de-knighted Fred Goodwin a scapegoat. He has been singled out for punishment, the argument goes, when there are many others as guilty as he. He has thus been "scapegoated".

No such thing. We have forgotten what a scapegoat is. The story comes from the Bible. The scapegoat was an animal on whom the sins of the people were symbolically laid; it was driven out into the wilderness to die, cleansing the people of sin. A scapegoat, then, is an innocent person who is punished for the sins of others. Fred Goodwin, on the other hand, has been punished for his own sins, which we all know about. If his punishment is unfair, it is not because he is innocent, like the scapegoat, but because others, equally guilty, have been let off.

If you want a traditional story to illustrate the fate of Mr Goodwin, you could say that, like Admiral Byng in 1757, he was taken out and shot "pour encourager les autres".

Many believe that was an injustice, but Byng, like Goodwin and unlike the scapegoat, had been found guilty of doing something wrong. The analogy is surprisingly close. Byng, like Goodwin, was guilty not of anything we should call a crime, but of disastrous incompetence in "failing to do his utmost" to defeat a French squadron off Minorca. At the time it was suspected that, as some say of Goodwin, he was singled out to deflect blame from others.

If any present-day banker has been treated like a scapegoat it is Stephen Hester, who was guilty of nothing but being entitled under his contract to what most people thought was an absurd amount of money.

Trying too hard: "It is a stereotype that has spawned countless jokes and become a truth universally acknowledged by men across the land – that women are the least proficient gender when it comes to parking a car."

That is the opening paragraph of a news story published on Monday. It went on to report experimental findings that women are actually better than men at parking.

Almost everything has gone wrong here. How can a stereotype (a plate of cast type-metal used in old-fashioned printing) spawn anything? There are only two genders, so one is the less, not least, proficient. What does "across the land" add, except a weird touch of medieval gadzookery? And finally, there is the dreaded "when it comes to", one of the two infallible markers of a sentence that needs radical surgery (the other is "the fact that").

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Parts Advisor

£16500 - £18500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: One of the leading Mercedes-Ben...

Recruitment Genius: Software Developer

£27500 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Telemarketers / Sales - Home Based - OTE £23,500

£19500 - £23500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Experienced B2B Telemarketer wa...

Recruitment Genius: Showroom Assistant

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This global company are looking for two Showro...

Day In a Page

Fifa corruption: The 161-page dossier that exposes the organisation's dark heart

The 161-page dossier that exposes Fifa's dark heart

How did a group of corrupt officials turn football’s governing body into what was, in essence, a criminal enterprise? Chris Green and David Connett reveal all
Mediterranean migrant crisis: 'If Europe thinks bombing boats will stop smuggling, it will not. We will defend ourselves,' says Tripoli PM

Exclusive interview with Tripoli PM Khalifa al-Ghweil

'If Europe thinks bombing boats will stop smuggling, it will not. We will defend ourselves'
Raymond Chandler's Los Angeles: How the author foretold the Californian water crisis

Raymond Chandler's Los Angeles

How the author foretold the Californian water crisis
Chinese artist who posted funny image of President Xi Jinping facing five years in prison as authorities crackdown on dissent in the arts

Art attack

Chinese artist who posted funny image of President Xi Jinping facing five years in prison
Marc Jacobs is putting Cher in the limelight as the face of his latest campaign

Cher is the new face of Marc Jacobs

Alexander Fury explains why designers are turning to august stars to front their lines
Parents of six-year-old who beat leukaemia plan to climb Ben Nevis for cancer charity

'I'm climbing Ben Nevis for my daughter'

Karen Attwood's young daughter Yasmin beat cancer. Now her family is about to take on a new challenge - scaling Ben Nevis to help other children
10 best wedding gift ideas

It's that time of year again... 10 best wedding gift ideas

Forget that fancy toaster, we've gone off-list to find memorable gifts that will last a lifetime
Paul Scholes column: With the Premier League over for another year, here are my end of season awards

Paul Scholes column

With the Premier League over for another year, here are my end of season awards
Heysel disaster 30th anniversary: Liverpool have seen too much tragedy to forget fateful day in Belgium

Liverpool have seen too much tragedy to forget Heysel

Thirty years ago, 39 fans waiting to watch a European Cup final died as a result of a fatal cocktail of circumstances. Ian Herbert looks at how a club dealt with this tragedy
Amir Khan vs Chris Algieri: Khan’s audition for Floyd Mayweather may turn into a no-win situation, says Frank Warren

Khan’s audition for Mayweather may turn into a no-win situation

The Bolton fighter could be damned if he dazzles and damned if he doesn’t against Algieri, the man last seen being decked six times by Pacquiao, says Frank Warren
Blundering Tony Blair quits as Middle East peace envoy – only Israel will miss him

Blundering Blair quits as Middle East peace envoy – only Israel will miss him

For Arabs – and for Britons who lost their loved ones in his shambolic war in Iraq – his appointment was an insult, says Robert Fisk
Fifa corruption arrests: All hail the Feds for riding to football's rescue

Fifa corruption arrests

All hail the Feds for riding to football's rescue, says Ian Herbert
Isis in Syria: The Kurdish enclave still resisting the tyranny of President Assad and militant fighters

The Kurdish enclave still resisting the tyranny of Assad and Isis

In Syrian Kurdish cantons along the Turkish border, the progressive aims of the 2011 uprising are being enacted despite the war. Patrick Cockburn returns to Amuda
How I survived Cambodia's Killing Fields: Acclaimed surgeon SreyRam Kuy celebrates her mother's determination to escape the US

How I survived Cambodia's Killing Fields

Acclaimed surgeon SreyRam Kuy celebrates her mother's determination to escape to the US
Stephen Mangan interview: From posh buffoon to pregnant dad, the actor has quite a range

How Stephen Mangan got his range

Posh buffoon, hapless writer, pregnant dad - Mangan is certainly a versatile actor