Evidence for DECIMATE ('one in ten')

Jonathan Lighter wuxxmupp2000 at YAHOO.COM
Thu Jan 10 04:49:19 UTC 2008

Lexicographers look at usage and record what comes to hand that looks to be significant,  and interesting, not just what the seeming majority uses or what the undoubted minority demands.

  Should we care how Joe and Jolina Prig use their own vocabularies? That's their business. If they get too wild they, like Humpty Dumpty*, should be regarded as off their rockers.

  This whole "decimate" madness (gee, I almost wrote "bullshit") arose because for
  various prestige reasons the "true meaning" of "decimate" has become a shibboleth for various jackasses.

  As I said earlier, the reality of the narrow meaning of "decimate"/ "decimation" is beyond reasonable doubt.  So is the broad meaning.

  * [" 'When I use a word,' Humpty Dumpty said, in a rather scornful tone,' it means just what I choose it to mean, neither more nor less....Impenetrability! That's what I say!' "  These are
  the words of a solipsistic madman, though unfortunately not often recognized for what they are.]


  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')

>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.

"Winning the day," as I used it, meant "prevailing to the extent that
the usage becomes common enough to warrant inclusion in a
dictionary." Of course it's an issue for lexicographers. I'm not
talking about winning an argument. I'm talking about affecting usage
on the large scale. That's what lexicographers look at, no? If
petulant insistence on a meaning by pedants has enough effect for
that meaning to come into common use, that certainly seems to me like
an issue for lexicographers. It's strange to me that I've had
difficulty getting across that this is what I meant by "winning the

Just to be clear: I am not saying that the pedants have won the day
on "decimate." I'm just sitting by the side watching the primary
results come in for that one. But I was responding to the more
general thread on pedants, particularly David Daniel's comments.

James Harbeck.

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

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