In the December Vocabula Now Online: Them's Crying Words

Dennis R. Preston preston at MSU.EDU
Sun Dec 16 15:44:53 UTC 2007

Is "Peter Bowler" a bawdy pseudonym? I ask, since years ago I
suffered badly after being introduced to a real "Randy Cox" and
reacting as if my leg had been pulled. I don't want to err again.


>---------------------- Information from the mail header
>Sender:       American Dialect Society <ADS-L at LISTSERV.UGA.EDU>
>Poster:       Laurence Horn <laurence.horn at YALE.EDU>
>Subject:      Re: In the December Vocabula Now Online: Them's Crying Words
>At 7:38 AM -0500 12/16/07, The Vocabula Review wrote:
>>In the December Issue of Vocabula
>><>The Superior Person's Field Guide to
>>Deceitful, Deceptive & Downright Dangerous Language
>>by Peter Bowler
>>decimate, to  v. For the information of journalists and for all
>>radio and TV presenters: to "decimate" a group of people or things
>>does not mean to kill, destroy, ravage, defeat, or lay waste all or
>>most of that group. This all-too-common usage is a classic example
>>of the mistake that can be made by learning the meaning of a word
>>solely from the context in which it is first encountered, and not
>>from the dictionary. To decimate is to kill, destroy, or otherwise
>>remove from the scene one in every ten of the members of that group.
>>Get it right! <>More ...
>I wonder whether Mr. Bowler has children, and if so whether he
>strictly forbade them to use any word (starting with "papa") before
>learning its meaning from "the dictionary".  I also wonder how he
>managed to locate a dictionary (much less "the dictionary") which
>will make sure that these children will encounter only the 'remove
>one in every ten of' sense of _decimate_ and not, say, 'to destroy or
>kill a large part of (a group)' [AHD].  True, the OED brands this use
>as "rhetorical"/"loose", but then the 'kill or destroy, remove one in
>every ten of' is a "transf." use.  The original (and hence only real)
>use is 'to select and put to death one in every ten of (a body of
>soldiers guilty of mutiny or other crime'.  Well, that would
>certainly make it easy for Mr. Bowler's hypothetical children to
>avoid this troublesome verb.
>The American Dialect Society -

Dennis R. Preston
University Distinguished Professor
Department of English
15C Morrill Hall
Michigan State University
East Lansing, MI 48824
preston at

The American Dialect Society -

More information about the Ads-l mailing list