Verb > Exculpate

Verb – Exculpate

This word has Latin roots meaning “to (clear) from blame.”

To exculpate people is to free them from blame, guilt, or punishment, usually in an official, public way.

Either “EX cull pate” (my preference)
or “ex CULL pate.”

Part of speech:
Verb, the transitive kind: “the evidence exculpates her,” “they were exculpated by the judge,” “the history books eventually exculpated him,” “the speaker attempted to exculpate them, to no avail.”

Other forms:
There’s “exculpated,” “exculpating,” and “exculpation” (EX cull PAY shun).

You can call things “exculpatory” (ex CULL puh tore ee), meaning they have the power to set people free from blame.

And you can call people “exculpable” (ex CULL puh bull), meaning they’re able to be freed from the charges against them.

The exact opposite of “exculpate” is the rarely used word “inculpate,” meaning “to blame someone, to charge someone with a crime, to show that someone is guilty or deserves punishment.”

How to use it:
Well, I’m tempted to say that “exculpate” is an ugly, awkward word. But I imagine it’s beautiful to people who hope for exculpation, whether they deserve it or not.

Either way, it’s a formal word, a serious one that calls to mind lawyers, courtrooms, and the forgiveness that society as a whole either offers or denies. (Often it’s judges in courtrooms who exculpate people, setting them free to go about their lives; but sometimes it’s a partner, a family, a peer group, a subculture, or a whole society who offers or denies exculpation.)

So, talk about people, groups, evidence, testimony, and other things that exculpate people. “The video footage clearly exculpates him.” “The transcript of the phone call exculpates no one.”

You can also say that things exculpate people from blame, or from some charge or accusation. “This video footage exculpates them from the charge; they took no part in the robbery.”

“The longer and more often you misremember something, the truer it becomes. Misremembering a bad thing as less bad might liberate a survivor, but it also might exculpate a perpetrator. So the responsibility for that memory becomes a collective one.”
— Margaret Lyons, New York Times, 24 May 2018

“She refused a blindfold and by some accounts even smiled at her executioners. Margaretha Zelle, a.k.a. ‘Mata Hari,’ an exotic dancer and convicted spy, met her end at age 41 at the hands of a firing squad outside Paris… However the public chose to remember her, the German government exculpated Mata Hari in 1930.”
— Ray Cavanaugh, Time, 13 October 2017