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

Wilson Gray hwgray at GMAIL.COM
Sun Dec 16 23:38:13 UTC 2007

Before it would be decimated, didn't that group first have to lose its
standard to the enemy, despite surviving the battle? Mr. Bowler
appears to have erred in leaving that detail out of his definition.
And wasn't it the case that every tenth member of that group was
executed and not simply "killed or destroyed"? If Mr. Bowler wishes to
expurgate the "classic example" and return to the classic meaning, he
can't pick and choose the details of his definition.


On Dec 16, 2007 10:24 AM, Laurence Horn <laurence.horn at> wrote:
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> 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.
> LH
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