I find it rather hard to look up the word "blameshift" in a dictionary. It appears in some dictionaries, but not many. The one dictionary I have found it in is Wiktionary. But I was unable to find this word, hyphenated or un-hyphenated, in Merriam Webster's online dictionary, or Collins' online dictionary.

Wiktionary gives the following definition:

(biblical) To blame another for one's own wrong-doing. Blameshifting can be caused by pointing the finger at another when trying to save one's skin.

I find it very interesting that they consider this word to be biblical. Does it appear in any English translations of the Bible? But more importantly, could anyone explain the etymology of the word "blameshift"? How long has this word been around? I know that the word "blame" ultimately comes from Ancient Greek (βλασφημέω) but I would be interested to know how exactly the compound word, "blameshift", came about.

I woud like to caution you, by the way, not to write off the etymology as that of two separate words: "blame" and "shift". The above questions that I ask are far more specific. I am interested in when and where these words came together, to form a compound. I am interested to know why many dictionaries do not list this compound word. I am interested in why Wiktionary thinks it is biblical. You can probably tell by now that my questions go beyond the etymology of its parts: I am interested in the etymology of the whole.

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    Blameshift is just a different spelling of blame shift (spaces are inaudible), which is a normal noun compound along the same lines as pony ride and fish fry, You ride the pony, fry the fish, or shift the blame. Commented Mar 9, 2017 at 2:43
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    Google's NGRAM shows no blameshift or blame shift before 1964. One collection of Bible verses on blaming others openbible.info/topics/blaming_others) has 79 entries, but no blame shift/shifting.
    – Xanne
    Commented Mar 9, 2017 at 2:58
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    Not all the noun compounds in English have been reported to Google yet. Wiktionary thinks it's biblical because of the story of the scapegoat. Commented Mar 9, 2017 at 3:06
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    Consider it self-referential :) . Alternatively - shifting blame can be traced right back to Adam and Eve in the Bible, but I'm sure one can find many instances in just about any human society.
    – Lawrence
    Commented Mar 11, 2017 at 23:47

1 Answer 1


Probably "blameshift" is a back-formation from "blameshifting," which does have an entry at Dictionary.com. In general, compounds of an object and a gerund are more productive in English than compounds of an object and a finite verb form. Object-gerund compounds aren't always written closed; they can be open or hyphenated instead (see the examples like "mountain climbing" and "name-dropping" on the following page: hyphen in noun-gerund compounds).

The Google Ngram Viewer shows evidence for some use of "blameshifting" since around 1950, while not showing any evidence of use of "blameshift," "blameshifts" or "blameshifted."

As noted in Xanne's comment, the Google Ngram Viewer does indicate some use of "blame shift" and "blame shifts," but its a bit hard to tell whether "shift" is a noun or a verb in these cases. The Ngram Viewer itself actually seems to think that "shift(s)" is a noun in all of the examples of "blame shift" that it indexes, although it could be wrong. Looking though Google Books, I did find there is at least one example of a hyphenated infinitive "to blame-shift."

I don't know why some Wiktionary contributor thinks it is biblical. Without corroboration of this from some other source, I would just ignore it.

  • I'm glad to know that the noun-gerund compound is more productive. The Ngram provides us with a lot of information. Thanks for that. The Biblical origin does seem quite speculative. As John Lawler points out, there might be a loose connection with the scapegoat.
    – ktm5124
    Commented Mar 11, 2017 at 23:23

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