DECIMATE (one more time)

Arnold M. Zwicky zwicky at CSLI.STANFORD.EDU
Mon Jan 7 18:19:26 UTC 2008

On Jan 7, 2008, at 9:43 AM, Ron Butters wrote:

> Neither one. These are both good questions, and the answers (as I
> see it) are
> as follows:
> DECIMATE, for some people, means 'killing [or destroying] one in
> ten'--and
> that meaning has been around for several generations...

so some people say.  the OED has no cites, nor did the compilers of
MWDEU find any.  i haven't seen any.  (no great surprise, since, as i
keep pointing out, "decimate" in this sense is not particularly
useful.  worse, since "decimate" in the 'greatly reduce' sense is so
common, and has been so for a couple of centuries, it would be hard to
get people to understand that you intend to use the verb in a much
more specific sense.)

so you don't find people using "decimate" to mean 'reduce by one-
tenth'.  what you do find is people saying that it shouldn't be used
in any other way.  that's just silly, and deserves mockery.


The American Dialect Society -

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