Saturday, September 10, 2016



Myron from Big Rapids asked about the word exculpatory. It is usually found in the phrase, exculpatory evidence. In a criminal trial, that would be evidence that tends to excuse the defendant from guilt – witness testimony, physical evidence, video, etc. Its opposite is inculpatory evidence, proof that the defendant did commit the crime.

Both words are built on the Latin word culpa, guilt or fault. The ex- prefix means to take away. The in- prefix means to bring in.

The culpa root shows up in other English words.

·      culpability: the quality of being guilty
·      culpate: to find fault with
·      culpation: a finding fault with
·      culpatory: expressing blame
·      culpose: characterized by criminal negligence
·      culprit: a person guilty of a fault
·      disculpate: to absolve from blame
·      disculpation: exoneration
·      disculpatory: exonerating from blame

Liturgically, there are two classical uses of culpa. St. Augustine of Hippo wrote, O felix culpa (Oh, happy fault!) in reference to the original sin of Adam and Eve, since it led to redemption. The other use shows up in a Mass prayer called the Confiteor. It contains the lines
            mea culpa (through my fault)
            mea culpa (through my fault)
            mea maxima culpa (through my most grievous fault)

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