\ \ [17] Culprit appears to be a fossilized survival of the mixture of English and French once used in English courts. The usually accepted account of its origin is that it is a lexicalization of an exchange in court between the accused and the prosecutor. If the prisoner pleaded ‘not guilty’ to the charge read out against him, the prosecutor would have countered, in Law French, with ‘Culpable: prit d’averrer …’, literally ‘Guilty: ready to prove’. (English culpable [14] comes ultimately from Latin culpaguilt’, and prit is the Anglo- Norman form of what in modern French has become prêtready’, from Latin praestus – source of English presto). The theory is that this would have been noted down by those recording the proceedings in abbreviated form as cul. prit, which eventually came to be apprehended as a term used for addressing the accused.

Word origins - 2ed. . 2005.


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