This blog is for everyone who uses words.

The ordinary-sized words are for everyone, but the big ones are especially for children.



Friday, 25 March 2016

Word To Use Today: culprit.

The law has its own language. Whether it was designed to confuse the rest of us I do not know, but it often succeeds in doing so.

The word absolutely in a will, for instance means something far more precise and possibly inconvenient than its usual conversational meaning of definitely; to call a lawyer a daffadowndilly has from time to time been a criminal libel; and garnishments are seldom anything to do with parsley.

Which brings us to culprit.

For most of us a culprit is someone who is guilty of some offence: the dog who ate the homework, for example, or the man who stole the painting, or the woman who left the stable door open.

In law, though, a culprit is nearly always innocent. 

The fact is that to a lawyer a culprit is a person awaiting trial, especially a person who's pleaded not guilty; and, as we know, everyone is innocent until they're found guilty.

It's a distinction that might be useful.

Someone's eaten all the tarts! I bet you're the culprit!

is something that can be denied with a clear conscience because, unless you're actually awaiting trial, technically you aren't the culprit at all.

Do wipe the crumbs from your mouth before you deny it, though, won't you.



Word To Use Today: culprit. This word comes from the Anglo-French culpable, guilt, plus prit, ready, the implication being that the prosecution was ready to proved the guilt of the accused.


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