Printable Version
Pronunciation: eg-zah-nêr-rayt Hear it!

Part of Speech: Verb, transitive

Meaning: 1. Absolve from blame, clear of an accusation of wrongdoing. 2. Relieve of duty or obligation, release from responsibility.

Notes: In addition to exonerate, English once had a fairly popular word, onerate "to load, burden". Unfortunately, it expired late in the 19th century. Today's word comes with a complete set of Latinate derivations, though. Its adjective is exonerative, abstract noun, exonerative, and personal noun, exonerator.

In Play: We most frequently encounter today's word in its legalistic sense: "Sue Nami was indicted for the murder of her husband but was exonerated by the fact that she killed him in self-defense." We meet the exonerate less frequently in sense two above, but it remains available: "The company president seems to think that frequent TV appearances exonerate him from his administrative duties."

Word History: Today's Good Word was based on Latin exoneratus, the past participle of exonerare "to unload, remove a burden", comprising ex "(out) from, off of" + onerare "to load, burden, oppress". Ex descended from PIE eghs "out (of)", source also of Greek ex "out of" and Russian iz "out of". PIE eghs had a comparative form eks-tero, which became exterior in Latin, and a superlative eks-t(e)r-emo-, which Latin converted to extremus "farthest". Old French converted the latter word to extreme, at which point English borrowed it. Onerare was derived from onus, oneris "load, burden", as in the legal phrase onus probandi "burden of proving (proof)". Onus comes from PIE enos-/onos- "burden", seen in Sanskrit anah "cart, wagon" but nowhere else in the Indo-European languages. (Today's topical Good Word occurred to Dr. Goodword as he and Mrs. Goodword watched the Muller Hearings on TV, August 24, 2019.)

Dr. Goodword,

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