mea culpa

[ mey-uh-kuhl-puh, mee-uh; Latin me-ah kool-pah ]
/ ˈmeɪ ə ˈkʌl pə, ˈmi ə; Latin ˈmɛ ɑ ˈkʊl pɑ /
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my fault! (used as an acknowledgment of one's responsibility).
noun plural me·a cul·pas.
an acknowledgment of one's responsibility for a fault or error.
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Origin of mea culpa

From Latin: literally “through my fault”; def. 1 was first recorded in 1200–50, and def. 2 in 1815–20; cf. culpa

Words nearby mea culpa

Dictionary.com Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2022


What does mea culpa mean?

Mea culpa is the Latin way of saying my bad. It literally means “through my (own) fault.”

Mea culpa can be used as an interjection (much like my fault or my bad) or as a noun referring to an apology, as in The senator offered a mea culpa during the press conference.

Example: Dave usually has a hard time admitting he’s wrong, so his mea culpa means a lot.

Where does mea culpa come from?

Mea culpa is a direct loan of a Latin phrase meaning ‘through my (own) fault.” It’s made of the parts mea, meaning “by me” or “through me,” and culpa, meaning “fault.” Culpa is also the root of the words culpable, meaning “deserving blame,” and culprit, meaning “a person guilty of something.”

The phrase mea culpa comes from a Roman Catholic prayer for confessing sin and seeking forgiveness. One line of the prayer is mea culpa, mea culpa, mea maxima culpa, which is usually translated as “through my own fault, through my own fault, through my most grievous fault.”

The phrase was borrowed directly from this prayer and has been in use as an admission of guilt since at least the 1200s. The noun form referring to an apology seems to be much newer, with the first records of it coming from the 1800s. The phrase is now commonly used both ways. When you eat your roommate’s leftover burrito without asking, you could say mea culpa, or you could offer a mea culpa by admitting that you did it and saying that you’re sorry. Or you could just stop eating your roommate’s food!

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How is mea culpa use in real life?

When used as an interjection, mea culpa is usually used to apologize for minor offenses and often has a lighthearted tone. But this is not necessarily the case when it’s used as a noun—it could be used for major admissions of guilt.



Try using mea culpa!

Is mea culpa used correctly in the following passage?

You’re right—I messed up the accounts. Mea culpa.

How to use mea culpa in a sentence

British Dictionary definitions for mea culpa

mea culpa
/ Latin (ˈmeɪɑː ˈkʊlpɑː) /

an acknowledgment of guilt

Word Origin for mea culpa

literally: my fault
Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 2012 Digital Edition © William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd. 1979, 1986 © HarperCollins Publishers 1998, 2000, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009, 2012

Cultural definitions for mea culpa

mea culpa
[ (may-uh kul-puh, kool-puh) ]

An expression from Catholic ritual that assigns blame to oneself: “I gave you the wrong directions to my house — mea culpa.” From Latin, meaning “my fault” or “my blame.”

The New Dictionary of Cultural Literacy, Third Edition Copyright © 2005 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. All rights reserved.