Evidence for DECIMATE ('one in ten')

Jonathan Lighter wuxxmupp2000 at YAHOO.COM
Thu Jan 10 02:59:48 UTC 2008

What seems strangely difficult to get across is that "winning the day" is not an issue for lexicographers, whose job is to identify and, when possible, to explain meanings.

  The madness - or one form of it - will end when prigs of all stripes recognize that "decimate," like most other English words, has, and has had, a number of logically related meanings, some of which are at times contextually ambiguous.  Those who wish to avoid potential ambiguity in their own usage can do so quite easily.



James Harbeck <jharbeck at SYMPATICO.CA> wrote:
  ---------------------- Information from the mail header -----------------------
Sender: American Dialect Society
Poster: James Harbeck
Subject: Re: Evidence for DECIMATE ('one in ten')

One thing about prigs, mind, is that they sometimes win the day.
That's why we don't use double negatives in "proper" English, why the
standard is to say "-ing" with a velar nasal instead of an alveolar
one (which had become the standard until it was atavistically
corrected on the basis of spelling in the 18th century), etc. And
when they don't win they day, they still sometimes have enough
influence to make a usage current enough in its circles to merit
inclusion as an available sense in our lexicon. (I'm not taking a
definite position on "decimate," mind.)

The other thing is that it does matter what people _think_ is correct
or is the "real" meaning of something even if they don't, as a matter
of course, use it that way. If their usage of it is in some way
shaped by this awareness, we can't discount it. Now, with "decimate,"
I don't think that the usage _is_ shaped by this awareness, but,
again, those dreadful prigs can't always be ignored or discounted

James Harbeck.

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

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