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I was watching an interview with someone in politics who said he had become the lightning rod, and I was not sure what that meant but looking up the meaning, I wonder how is that different from being a scapegoat?

EDIT: I'm asked to say why the following suggested link is not the answer. That one is not about the difference between these two terms. But I do see an answer that references both terms:

"A lightning rod is someone who attracts a lot of criticism, in particular in order to shield other people (like a literal lightning rod diverts lightning harmlessly into the ground). It is thus related in meaning with scapegoat, i.e. someone who is blamed for the mistakes of others."

So is this the difference then that lighting rod (purposefully) attracts the criticism to shield others, almost heroically, but scapegoat is person who is blamed/criticized by OTHERS?

closed as off-topic by NVZ, Hot Licks, Scott, curiousdannii, jimm101 Jan 16 '17 at 15:28

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    Possible duplicate of When is a person called a "lightning rod"? – NVZ Jan 16 '17 at 3:36
  • Actually, their meanings are quite different. Please examine the definitions and explain what you do not understand. – Hot Licks Jan 16 '17 at 3:41
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    The metaphors are quite different. A scapegoat is a person or personified thing that attracts blame (usually deflecting it from the real culprits); it's entirely social and the metaphor is simply substituting a person for a goat. A lightning rod, on the other hand, attracts electricity, which is metaphorically equivalent to a number of possibilities, most not good -- trouble, danger, unwanted attention, systemic failures, etc. It's a real metaphor, not just a reified social custom like a scapegoat. – John Lawler Jan 16 '17 at 5:01
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    It's worth noting that a lightning rod doesn't set itself up to draw lightning away from a vulnerable structure. The people who own the vulnerable structure set it up to do that. But a lightning rod is not damaged by a lightning strike—in fact, it's designed to convey the electricity away safely and without damage to itself or the structure. In contrast, though a scapegoat is likewise set up by others who wish it to draw harm away from themselves, the scapegoat may suffer severe damage as a result. So a lightning rod passes electricity safely to the neutralizing earth; a scapegoat gets zapped. – Sven Yargs Jan 16 '17 at 8:47
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    A scapegoat does not attract anything. A person who is a scapegoat is ****used**** by someone else as the object of blame of some condition. – Lambie Jan 16 '17 at 14:31
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A scapegoat is someone who is maliciously used by others as the person to be blamed/criticized, thereby deflecting blame from the actual guilty parties. The term derives from the practice of assigning ones sins to a goat (and then slaughtering it), in biblical times.

A lightning rod intentionally attracts blame/criticism, without the need for others to direct the blame. The term (obviously) derives from the grounded metal rods placed atop buildings to protect them from lightning.

(Interestingly, real lightning rods do not generally "attract" lightning, but rather cause the air around them to become deionized, making lightning much less likely to strike. But few non-technical people understand this. (Would that the figurative lightning rods had this same effect.))

An outspoken, politically-biased news commentator might be a lightning rod (and may actually enjoy the attention), while a earnest reporter who reports the truth in an unbiased fashion might be "scape-goated" by others for simply reporting some unpleasant facts. (And the "round up the usual suspects" form of law enforcement is also a scape-goating practice.)

In both cases the individual (or organization/agency/whatever) is receiving blame, but in one case there is intent is on the part of the blamed party to attract blame while in the other case there is malicious intent on the part of the blaming party (or some third party "blowing a dog whistle") to misdirect the blame.

  • thank you this seems to be the most helpful and detailed answer to me (unless someone disagrees and can make a comment here). I accept it as answer, thank you. – JSavant Jan 16 '17 at 22:49
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In a comment, John Lawler said:

The metaphors are quite different.

A scapegoat is a person or personified thing that attracts blame (usually deflecting it from the real culprits); it's entirely social and the metaphor is simply substituting a person for a goat.

A lightning rod, on the other hand, attracts electricity, which is metaphorically equivalent to a number of possibilities, most not good -- trouble, danger, unwanted attention, systemic failures, etc. It's a real metaphor, not just a reified social custom like a scapegoat.

  • Sorry, but are we now posting other's comments as answers? This is just a question. :) – Lambie Jan 16 '17 at 14:39
  • @Lambie this is what we sometimes do to preserve good quality answers posted in comments. I don't gain any rep from it. See that it's marked as community wiki. :) – NVZ Jan 16 '17 at 14:43
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    @Lambie it's done mostly when the answer-in-comment is by John Lawler or other experts. See: english.stackexchange.com/a/368363/50044 – NVZ Jan 16 '17 at 14:52

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