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

Jonathan Lighter wuxxmupp2000 at YAHOO.COM
Wed Jan 9 19:03:10 UTC 2008

No one has called attention to the interesting usage note OED2 offers for "decimate" in the extended sense (4.a): "Loosely or rhetorically."  That kind of note strikes me as somewhat unusual for the OED, and prescriptivists have no doubt taken heart from it.  The _Century Dictionary_ of 1889 also notes "Loosely."

  Neither  raises the slightest warning signal about the corresponding use of "decimation," however.

  Also, OED has cites for the prescriptivist sense of  "decimation" from 1580 to 1827 - good corroborating evidence that the corresponding sense of the verb was also in use, and a fact which tends to demolish the implications of saying that Murray had *no* English evidence for the narrow sense of the verb.

  OED's "decimation" also incl. a single ex. suggesting that the verbal "kill 9/10" sense is also old.

  The prescriptivist position partly comes from the romantically logical idea that to "decimate" (kill 1/10th) is a useful term that should be protected from turning into just another boring synonym for "kill lots of."

  More fun: In its own usage note, the _New Oxford American Dictionary_ says that "It is generally agreed that _decimate_ should not be used to mean 'defeat utterly.'"

  So evidently a bunch of super-quasi-illiterates  (students and the sportswriters they have become, I assume) have been doing just that. Citations anyone?

"Douglas G. Wilson" <douglas at NB.NET> wrote:
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in ten')

A little late, maybe, but pretty explicit:


1884: <decimated, that is, one out of ten killed, yet in the case cited the
city is more than decimated every year by disease, ....>>

Reference is to a high cholera death rate (12% per year) in a South
American city.

-- Doug Wilson

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