DECIMATE (one more time)

James Harbeck jharbeck at SYMPATICO.CA
Sun Jan 6 03:39:20 UTC 2008

The "decim" in "decimate" certainly is right there to be seen. That's
why, for quite a long time, until I learned the history of the word,
I assumed that it meant "reduce to one tenth" (rather than the
"correct" "by one tenth," which, as has been pointed out by a few
people already, isn't as often a useful meaning). As in move back one
decimal place. I must say, history aside, that still seems to me as
reasonable a thing for that morphemic combination to mean.

I wonder how many other people see it and think the same thing. We're
not likely to be able to sort that out just from usages in the wild;
a survey, carefully done, might be suggestive, I suppose. I'm
guessing there's nothing like that that's been done already popping
into anyone's mind, or it would have been mentioned.

James Harbeck.

The American Dialect Society -

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