Evidence for DECIMATE   ('one in ten')

RonButters at AOL.COM RonButters at AOL.COM
Mon Jan 7 19:08:24 UTC 2008

 I don't really see how we can dismiss the "opinions" that people have about 
word meanings as somehow not "real" even if they may seem to be "all 

I certainly agree that is obviously ridiculous to insist that the ONLY 
legitimate meaning for a word is a meaning that occurs only in the writings of the 
insisters. I am comfortable saying that such an insistence in itself decimates 
the dogma that the prescriptivist reading is the ONLY legitimate one. 

My point is merely that linguists must not dismiss data that clearly is 
inside the heads of large numbers of real speakers of the language. All the data 
that the prescriptivists (and dictionary makers) generate (and have generated 
for over 100 years) clearly indicates that, for a considerable number of people, 
DECIMATE has the meaning 'destroy 10%' of something. The fact that this 
belief may have come about in ways that a linguist does not approve of makes it no 
less linguistically real--assuming that linguistic reality inheres in the 
minds of actual users and that linguistis should not rule out of consideration the 
meanings that actual speakers of the language assign to words simply because 
we do not like their attitudes or sanction the ways in which they have 
constructed their associations. 

In a message dated 1/7/08 1:24:14 PM, zwicky at CSLI.STANFORD.EDU writes:

> On Jan 7, 2008, at 9:59 AM, Ron Butters wrote:
> > Obviously, then, there is ample evidence for the continud meaning
> > "To kill,
> > destroy, or remove one in
> > every ten of" in the work of such people as Richard Grant White and
> > those who
> > agree with him.
> not really.  i haven't seen a single instance of "decimate" *used* in
> this sense in the work of Richard Grant White or any other
> commentator.  we get opinions, not actual uses; it's all theoretical.

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