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

Arnold M. Zwicky zwicky at CSLI.STANFORD.EDU
Mon Dec 17 17:23:37 UTC 2007

On Dec 16, 2007, at 7:24 AM, Larry Horn wrote:

> At 7:38 AM -0500 12/16/07, The Vocabula Review wrote:
>> 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...

and goes on to point out absurdities in Peter Bowler's discussion.

MWDEU has a wonderful sharp-tongued discussion of the word, noting
that (a) the proscribed sense is attested since (at least) 1663; (b)
people have been complaining about this usage since (at least) Richard
Grant White in 1870; and (c) there are apparently *no* attested uses
of the verb in the meaning 'reduce by one-tenth' (which is not
surprising, because there just aren't that many occasions on which
you'd actually want such a verb).

what interests me about the whole matter is the widespread passion
with which the usage is condemned.  it's an enduring peeve fashion
(with a longer history even than speaker-oriented "hopefully").


The American Dialect Society -

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