Word: exonerate

Pronunciation: iɡ-ZAH-nə-rayt

Part of Speech: verb

Definition: absolve (someone) from blame for a fault or wrongdoing, especially after due consideration of the case

Source: Oxford Dictionaries


Frasier: [on TV] Maris Crane and Niles Crane will soon be executed.

Martin: That’s four times in one newscast. Must be some kind of record.

Frasier: They know I meant “exonerated”.

Frasier (Season 11, Episode 8 – Murder Most Maris)

Here’s a funny example of a word I actually learned through a mix-up that changed the entire meaning of the sentence, in this case from an episode of the popular sitcom Frasier. After Niles’s ex-wife Maris accidentally kills her lover, Niles and his family find themselves in the middle of a media storm that turns their lives upside down. In an attempt to clear his brother’s name, Frasier offers to give a statement on the news claiming that Maris and Niles should soon be freed from all accusations. Unfortunately, he only makes things worse when he gets his words muddled up and accidentally uses “execute” in place of “exonerate”!

To “exonerate” someone is to free them from blame for a crime or other wrongdoing, especially as an official act by a body of authority. The word arose in late Middle English and comes from the Latin verb exonerare, meaning “to free from a burden”. This verb comprises two roots: the preposition ex “from” and the noun onus “burden”.

The main definition of “exonerate” refers to an official release from guilt, though it can also be used more informally in the sense “to release someone from a duty or obligation”. If you ever need to free your characters from blame or some other burden, “exonerate” is a good word to keep on your list. Just be careful not to get your words mixed up, or your characters could be in for some serious injustice!

[enter Niles and Daphne, looking unamused]

Frasier: Oh, Daphne, Niles. Listen, I’m so sorry about today’s little gaffe. You know what I meant.

Daphne: Oh, don’t worry. Anyone can make a little slip. We know you were only trying to ruin our lives- I mean, help.

What are your thoughts on this word? Any suggestions for future “Word of the Week” featured words?

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