Decimate once again

Subject: Decimate once again
From: john boyce <>
Date: Fri, 07 Nov 2003 09:14:12 +1100
Hi everyone,
I still think that it is now accepted that you can use decimate for
things other than 10%. I have already written to Philip saying that my
Oxford concise dictionary certainly does (it is the second meaning after
to kill 1/10th of slaves or enemy). See below for definition from Note that 66% of their usage panel accepts the extension
to killing a large %, but they do not like (only 26% agree) the
extension to large scale destruction not killing. I really think that
the meaning of the original poster was never in doubt, therefore the
usage was correct.
John Boyce


dec·i·mate    ( P )  Pronunciation Key  (ds-mt)
tr.v. dec·i·mat·ed, dec·i·mat·ing, dec·i·mates
To destroy or kill a large part of (a group).
Usage Problem.
To inflict great destruction or damage on: The fawns decimated my rose
To reduce markedly in amount: a profligate heir who decimated his trust
To select by lot and kill one in every ten of.

[Latin decimre, decimt-, to punish every tenth person, from decimus,
tenth, from decem, ten. See dek in Indo-European Roots.]
deci·mation n.
Usage Note: Decimate originally referred to the killing of every tenth
person, a punishment used in the Roman army for mutinous legions. Today
this meaning is commonly extended to include the killing of any large
proportion of a group. Sixty-six percent of the Usage Panel accepts this
extension in the sentence The Jewish population of Germany was decimated
by the war, even though it is common knowledge that the number of Jews
killed was much greater than a tenth of the original population.
However, when the meaning is further extended to include large-scale
destruction other than killing, as in The supply of fresh produce was
decimated by the nuclear accident at Chernobyl, only 26 percent of the
Panel accepts the usage.

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