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I'm looking for a word which defines the act of "making an offence look less severe". However, this can be done rightfully (because an offence might in reality be excusable because of unfavorable circumstances) or unrightfully (because there are no excuses for the offence, but the offender is trying to get away with it anyway, so this word is most likely pejorative).

Are there different words to describe each situation above, that I could use in everyday language, without sounding too formal?

What about 'extenuate' and 'palliate'? What other words are there, that have more exact definitions like these two?

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You forgot 'ameliorate'. –  Mitch Dec 22 '12 at 13:54
2  
The differences between those words are not what I would call nuances. –  Robusto Dec 22 '12 at 14:09

2 Answers 2

up vote 2 down vote accepted

I think the two words you’re looking for are extenuating and mitigating -

From OED -

exˈtenuating, adj.

That extenuates in senses of the vb. Now chiefly in phrase extenuating circumstances: circumstances that tend to diminish culpability.

mitigating, adj.

That mitigates; alleviating, extenuating, moderating. Freq. in mitigating circumstances n. (also in sing.) chiefly Law a fact or situation which reduces culpability for an offence and permits greater leniency in judgment or punishment;

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Thank you. So I'm assuming the verb 'to mitigate' can be used in a pejorative way. –  x74x61 Dec 22 '12 at 18:50
    
@x74x61, no, I don't think "mitigate" can be used in a pejorative way, except (like almost anything) in sarcasm. It doesn't imply that the reason is unjustified. I think you are looking for some one word that signifies something like the excuse "boys will be boys", which does suggest an offense that means less to the speaker than it should. –  Andrew Lazarus Dec 22 '12 at 21:38

Palliate hasn't meant "make an offense look less severe" for 200 years. I think you are looking for mitigate.

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