1 : to lessen or to try to lessen the seriousness or extent of by making partial excuses : mitigate
2 : to lessen the strength or effect of
Did You Know?
You have probably encountered the phrase "extenuating circumstances," which is one of the more common ways that this word turns up in modern times. "Extenuate" was borrowed into English in the 16th century from Latin "extenuatus," the past participle of the verb "extenuare," which was itself formed by combining "ex-" and the verb "tenuare," meaning "to make thin." In addition to the surviving senses, "extenuate" once meant "to make light of" and "to make thin or emaciated"; although those senses are now obsolete, the connection to "tenuare" can be traced somewhat more clearly through them. In addition, "extenuate" gave us the adjective "extenuatory," meaning "tending to make less."
Don't even try to extenuate their vandalism of the cemetery with the old refrain of "Boys will be boys."
"At my university (as at others I've known), circumstances may extenuate plagiarism, but they never excuse it." -- From an article by Clifford Orwin in The Globe and Mail (Canada), June 15, 2011
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