When the Normans conquered England in the late eleventh century, they brought their code of laws with them, using an archaic form of French, which has greatly influenced our legal system. One example of this impact is the word culprit, which is actually a contraction of the phrase Culpable: prest d'averrer nostre bille, which would translate to English as "Culpable: ready to aver our indictment" or, without the jargon, "Guilty: ready to state charges". This was originally a phrase used by prosecuters to indicate that they believed the defendant was actually not innocent as they claimed and were prepared to move forward with the trial and prove that. Onto etymology! The root in the word culpable traces to Latin culpa, which meant "crime", "blame", "guilt", or "error" (also the source of mea culpa, "my bad"). Culpa, through Proto-Italic, comes from a Proto-Indo-European reconstruction sounding like kolpeh and meaning "turn" because of a connection of taking a wrong turn.
Adam Aleksic is a 220-month-old, 2800-ounce high school senior with disturbing interests in etymology, vexillology, geography, board games, limericks, and law. Adam will be studying linguistics at Harvard College in the fall.
The Etymology Nerd