Origin of Decimate

To: "birding aus" <>
Subject: Origin of Decimate
From: "Philip A. Veerman" <>
Date: Thu, 6 Nov 2003 18:39:29 +1100
I understood the origin of "Decimate" to be that the threat to decimate was used against slaves or prisoners of war, to keep them obeying orders. I am not an authority on that information but it makes perfect sense and helps to explain how the word should be used. Slaves would be lined up and every tenth one would be killed. There would be no use killing all the slaves, as then who would do the work? Killing 90% of them would be almost as stupid and messy. More importantly, it would be of little value to the captors, as a deterrent for recalcitrant slaves. If slaves only had a 10% chance of living, why would they bother obeying orders. However killing or threatening to kill 10% of them (hence the DEC in the word), provided they all knew about it, would tend to keep them in line, so to speak. Not very nice welfare towards slaves, however that didn't matter. I am sure that the word is of an old origin and therefore is unlikely to have been invented to deal with esoteric thoughts on wild animal populations.
My point is, what is the point of having a word with a defined use, if people (not "persons") are going to use it to mean something quite opposite? If a word is well-known to be misused, then it is best not to use it. If you mean cull, kill, devastate or annihilate, then use that word instead.
Reid's suggestion below may be correct but would make it even more confusing.
Let us get back to business.
-----Original Message-----
From: Reid <>
To: <>
Date: Thursday, 6 November 2003 11:29
Subject: [BIRDING-AUS] Decimate

The most probable correct antonym for 'decimate' would be to use the Latin
root for 'ify', meaning "to make or cause to become".

Thus, to make something become one-tenth of its former quantity or state,
the word would be 'decify'.


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