decimating DECIMATE

Philip (Flip) Kromer flip at MRFLIP.COM
Sun Jan 6 11:31:48 UTC 2008

```I'm sorry to wander in near the tail end of this discussion, but as a
computer geek (and not at all a word expert) I'm curious why none of
the dictionaries I can access (OED, M-W, Bartleby, MSN) mention the
very common
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Decimation_(signal_processing)
signal-processing sense of decimation: 'divide a sample into, then
eliminate a fraction of, many small slices". In addition to the
(decimation OR decimate) (sampling OR signal OR MPEG)

It appears to be an established term of art by 1970, its first mention
in the patent database:
"Each of decimators 310-1 and 311-1 is operative, as is well known
in the art, to decimate the 10 kHz sampling rate by a factor of 25
so that the sample signal output of each of the decimated samples
occurs at a 400 Hz rate."
(You gotta love patent application prose.)

I think (again, as a non-expert) this weakens the "deci- has a strong
one-tenth implication", since in practice the sampling rate reduction
would be chosen as 10% or 90% only by coincidence. This context for
the word -- directily implying a fractional reduction of the original
total -- would seem to act towards a flavor of "decimal" and
"decigram", yet engineers feel no shame in decimating by 2, or 25, or
25 / 29.97ths.

Also of note: among the
six pre-1918 appearances of 'decimate' in the patent library, there
are two uses as "devastate", one as "divide into tenths or decimally",
and three 'kill off a fraction of' (no more than one in the 'reduce by
90%' sense).

Cheers,
flip
http://vizsage.com/blog

> Date: Thu, 3 Jan 2008 12:00:10 EST
> Sender: American Dialect Society Mailing List <ADS-L at listserv.uga.edu>
> From: RonButters at AOL.COM
> Subject: decimating DECIMATE

> I agree that most of the arguments about DECIMATE are ignorant and peevish,
> but I don't think it is entirely a matter of "the etymological fallacy." At least as
> important is the relative transparency of "DECI" (as in "decimal," etc.), which
> has a sort of independent morphosemantic existence that allows (causes?)
> folks to associate the word with the meaning 'ten'.

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