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Pronunciation: in-kêl-payt, in-kêl-payt Hear it!

Part of Speech: Verb, transitive

Meaning: 1. Incriminate, to cause a charge to be brought against someone. 2. Accuse, blame, to find fault with, to bring a charge against.

Notes: Here is a verb whose antonym, exculpate "to clear of guilt", is encountered more frequently than it is. It comes with a complete family of derivational relatives befitting Latinate verbs ending on -ate: an action noun, inculpation, and two adjectives, inculpative and inculpatory. Inculpable, however, means "not culpable"; the in- prefix here is the Latin negative prefix as in inactive, incorrect, and so forth.

In Play: Some dictionaries do not even list the second definition above, since this word is used almost exclusively in its first meaning: "When Maisie broke the lamp, she tried to inculpate her brother by telling her mom that he had done it." In this instance Maisie also inculpated her brother in the second sense of inculpate.

Word History: Today's Good Word comes from Medieval Latin inculpatus "blamed", the past participle of inculpare "to reproach, blame, censure". This verb is made up of in "in" + culpare "to blame", from culpa "fault", as in mea culpa "my fault", an acknowledgement of a personal error. We also see it in culpable "guilty" and a most culpable party, culprit. The latter word comes from an Anglo-French abbreviation, cul. prit., of the phrase culpable: prest (d'averrer nostre bille) "guilty: ready (to prove our case)", words used by the prosecutor in opening a trial after the Norman invasion of England. How culpa came to be in Latin is anyone's guess.

Dr. Goodword,

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