Evidence for DECIMATE ('one in ten')

Benjamin Zimmer bgzimmer at BABEL.LING.UPENN.EDU
Mon Jan 7 20:40:29 UTC 2008

On Jan 7, 2008 3:21 PM, Baker, John <JMB at stradley.com> wrote:
>         Arnold, what is your opinion of the view espoused by Fowler?  He wrote that the
> application of "decimate" "is naturally extended to the destruction in any way of a large
> proportion of anything reckoned by number, e.g., a population may be said to be
> decimated by a plague.  But . . . anything that is expressly inconsistent with the proper
> sense _(A single frosty night decimated the currants by as much as 80%)_ must be avoided."
> He particularly criticized an example in which "literally decimated" was used to mean "killed."
> (He also criticized the application of the word to the virtual extermination of rabbits by
> myxomatosis, but he may have been under the misapprehension that myxomatosis is 100%
> effective.)

I believe Fowler objected to rabbits being the objects of decimation,
since they (like the currants) are non-human.

More here: http://blog.oup.com/2008/01/decimate/

--Ben Zimmer

The American Dialect Society - http://www.americandialect.org

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