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

Jonathan Lighter wuxxmupp2000 at YAHOO.COM
Sun Dec 16 18:12:52 UTC 2007

To continue, since the precise date of Jesus' birth is not known, the preferred greeting is actually "Happy [or "Merry"] Approximate Date of the Birth of Jesus to you!"  Those who find this usage pedantic should reconsider their position in the light of reason and solicitude for the feelings of others.


"Dennis R. Preston" <preston at MSU.EDU> wrote:
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Sender: American Dialect Society
Poster: "Dennis R. Preston"

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

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
>Poster: Laurence Horn
>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 -

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