[ADS- L] Ev id ence for DECIMATE   ( 'one in ten')

Jesse Sheidlower jester at PANIX.COM
Tue Jan 8 14:55:22 UTC 2008

On Tue, Jan 08, 2008 at 12:30:56AM -0500, Douglas G. Wilson wrote:
> OK, here are a few more which I consider most compatible with
> "[about] 1/10" rather than with "arbitrary large fraction" ... some
> perhaps open to question. Many of these (not all) can, of course, be
> explained away if one considers it natural to say something like <<He
> killed a lot of them, or more.>> or <<He killed almost a whole lot of
> them.>>.

If you're taking these as evidence of a 'kill one in ten' sense,
then yes, I'm afraid we're going to disagree quite strongly about
how common this sense is. If forced I'd take the two examples
with specific numbers (worse than decimated, i.e. one-third, or
twenty percent) as potentially useful, and I'd reject the one that
discusses "literal" use as being too self-conscious. The others can't
be taken specifically at all; sure, it's possible to force a reading
of 1/10 on them, but there's no evidence.

The real question when interpreting these quotes, for me, is
not "if we go in armed with some preconception, how can we
twist these to make it fit," but rather "what can we assume
from the citational evidence?" If I took all of these quotes
and rewrote them by changing "decimate" to "frobnitz", so we
had "The Roman Church was worse than frobnitzed by the fierce
persecution," there's no possibility that anyone would argue
for a 'kill one in ten' reading.

Jesse Sheidlower

> http://books.google.com/books?id=feMFAAAAQAAJ&pg=PA472&dq=decimated+date:1850-1870&lr=&num=100&as_brr=3
> 1866: <<... the Roman Church -- persecuted, scattered, decimated, --
> worse than decimated, -- by the fierce persecution; ......
> http://books.google.com/books?id=jWcFAAAAQAAJ&pg=PA328&dq=decimated+date:1850-1870&lr=&num=100&as_brr=3
> 1857: <<... under which little children would be decimated, or worse
> than decimated -- under which more than one-third would be slaughtered
> ....>>
> http://books.google.com/books?id=LmEEAAAAMAAJ&pg=PA33&dq=decimated+date:1850-1870&lr=&num=100&as_brr=3
> 1859: <<He does not know that many ships have their numbers nearly
> decimated by death, ....>>
> http://books.google.com/books?id=YPtcOxD3DX4C&pg=PA32&dq=decimated+date:1850-1870&lr=&num=100&as_brr=3
> 1855: << The poor are decimated, more than decimated, by consumption.>>
> http://books.google.com/books?id=5L8NAAAAQAAJ&pg=PA101&dq=decimated+date:1850-1870&lr=&num=100&as_brr=3
> 1866: <<.The letter referred to, unfairly selecting the year 1850,
> when the cholera decimated Jamaica, and more than decimated the
> public hospital and lunatic asylum, states that twenty per cent. of
> the patients admitted into that institution died in one year.>>
> http://books.google.com/books?id=BsoGAAAAYAAJ&pg=PA114&dq=decimated+date:1850-1870&lr=&num=100&as_brr=3
> 1856: <<It [the plague] may be literally said to have _decimated_ the
> world, even though we were to take this term as implying the
> destruction of _nine_ in place of _one,_ out of ten.>>
> http://books.google.com/books?id=X9Bub7NzG3sC&pg=PR8&dq=decimated+date:1850-1870&lr=&num=100&as_brr=3
> 1868: <<... because the Staff ... had been more than decimated.>>
> http://books.google.com/books?id=-vEMAAAAIAAJ&pg=PA300&dq=decimated+date:1850-1870&lr=&num=100&as_brr=3
> 1853: <<the aforesaid city has been almost decimated by this
> frightful scourge ....>>
> http://books.google.com/books?id=yQRjt6jKiAMC&pg=PA461&dq=decimated+date:1850-1870&lr=&num=100&as_brr=3
> 1855: <<It [cholera] greatly more than decimated the villages ....>>
> -- Doug Wilson
> --
> No virus found in this outgoing message.
> Checked by AVG Free Edition.
> Version: 7.5.516 / Virus Database: 269.17.13/1213 - Release Date: 1/7/2008
> 9:14 AM
> ------------------------------------------------------------
> The American Dialect Society - http://www.americandialect.org

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

More information about the Ads-l mailing list