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I am looking for a word or phrase to describe hastily accusing someone else of a crime you did not commit in order to escape being accused yourself. Another EL&U question (What to call someone who falsely accuses you?) drew suggestions that amount to synonyms for liar, but I am looking for something different.

  1. I want to describe the action, not the person doing the accusation.
  2. I am looking for a word or phrase that gives the impression that the person only made the accusation because he/she was already threatened or was under pressure and had no choice but to blame someone else to save himself/herself from being punished. He/she did not put blame on the other person through evil intentions but out of a desire for self-preservation. He/she might have been thinking that if no one else got caught, he/she would most likely be blamed, and so moved preemptively to redirect all the suspicion toward this third person. The crime involved is also heavier than libel or slander, and conviction might result in a death sentence. The situation is similar to the Salem Witch Trials, where the suspects started naming other people as witches in hopes of avoiding being lynched.

Tituba accused Sarah Goode without evidence to save herself from execution.

  • @Sven Yargs thank you for formatting, i didn't notice the existence of formatting tags :D – rednryt Sep 27 '17 at 8:39
  • Not being able to handle the a stressful situation is cracking under pressure. The desire to do "anything" to avoid the stress is one of the reasons torture is considered an unreliable method for obtaining accurate information. – jxh Sep 27 '17 at 18:05
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Tituba framed Sarah Goode without evidence to save herself from execution.

It covers the falsely accusing someone else, though I'm not sure if that is enough to fulfill your requirements, as it doesn't imply the self-preservation motive. You would probably need to add an adjective to framed to convey this extra meaning.

  • thank you framed seems more appropriate... though as of the moment I can't think of anything to add to it :) – rednryt Sep 27 '17 at 8:47
  • No, I couldn't etiher, that's why I didn't suggest one! I think to convey all of the elements you require, you would need to preface the sentence with some thing like "In an instinctive act of self-preservation, Tituba framed...." – JonLarby Sep 27 '17 at 10:19
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    I think you're on a wild-goose chase. JonLarby's framed might be as close as you could get, but even that doesn't imply anything about reason; to escape being accused yourself or otherwise. – Robbie Goodwin Sep 27 '17 at 23:19
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This seems a lot to ask of just one phrase!

To throw someone to the wolves gets you most of the way there: it implies sacrificing an innocent and that it is done out of self preservation. The language of the phrase is suggestive of an external threat too.

However, the phrase doesn't have the required accusatory element in and of itself. You could try something like:

In a desperate effort to save herself, Tituba suggested Sarah Goode might be to blame, throwing the poor woman to the wolves.

If you don't mind mixing your metaphors, you could hang someone out to dry to save your own skin [or hide or neck]. To my ears, at least, those two idioms do work well together, particularly if you stick with skin. However, the accusatory element isn't there again.

Also consider throwing someone under the bus and pointing the finger. In the right mix, pass the buck or a straightforward phrase like shift the blame might even work.

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You could say you have deflected the accusation onto somebody else, literally redirecting the implication of impropriety to someone else before it affects you.

She was ready to accuse him of dishonesty, but he deflected the accusation back at her, by implying she had done worse in the past.

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How about "scapegoating", when blame or responsibility is incorrectly ascribed to a person or group, often to deflect attention from those who are actually responsible?

This term comes from religious practices in which people's sins or misdeeds were ascribed to a goat that was then killed or abandoned, leaving the people "sin free".

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