DECIMATE (one more time)

Mark Mandel thnidu at GMAIL.COM
Tue Jan 8 13:55:28 UTC 2008

'Take one in ten' was the meaning of Latin "decimo", including 'punish one
in ten' (the earliest recorded sense) but also 'tithe, take one-tenth of'.

Oxford English Dictionary decimate, v.
decimate, v.

    3. Milit. To select by lot and put to death one in every ten of (a body
of soldiers guilty of mutiny or other crime): a practice in the ancient
Roman army, sometimes followed in later times. [earliest citation 1600,
before other senses in Eng.]

Charlton T. Lewis, Charles Short, A Latin

      I. To select by lot every tenth man for punishment, to decimate
(postAug., although the practice itself occurs as  early as 283 A. U. C.; v.
Liv. 2, 59 fin.), Suet. Galb. 12: cohortes, id. Aug. 24 : cohortium militem,
Frontin. Strat. 4, 1, 37 al.-- Absol., Suet. Calig. 48.--

      II. To cause to pay tithes, to collect tithes from a person. --Pass.:
et Levi decimatus est, Vulg. Hebr. 7, 9 .--

      III. To select the tenth part as an offering, to pay tithes of
anything, Fest. p. 237, 25 Müll.; Vulg. Matth. 23, 23.--Hence, dĕcŭmātus ,
a, um, P. a., selected, excellent, choice: honestas, Symm. Ep. 3, 49 and
51.--Sup.: juvenis, id. ib. 8, 16 .

m a m

On Jan 7, 2008 11:53 AM, James Smith <jsmithjamessmith at> wrote:

> I'm getting confused by this discussion.  Is it the
> contention of this discussion that "decimate" does not
> and never has meant killing one in ten; that such a
> concept is totally foreign to the origin of this word
> and has been invented in recent times to match the
> word with a spurious etymology?
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