Decimation - total destruction

Phyrebrat

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#1
I notice a lot of times that this word is used to mean 'total destruction' when my good friend Stephen Fry tells me that to decimate is to reduce by ten percent.

Are we confusing it with 'annihilate' or now, in the spirit of evolving language, does decimate mean either?

pH
 

Mouse

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#2
Did you Google it, dude? Because Google says the ten percent thing is the 'historical' meaning. And Google never lies.
 

Vince W

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#3
OED - Usage

Historically, the meaning of the word decimate is ‘kill one in every ten of (a group of people)’. This sense has been more or less totally superseded by the later, more general sense ‘kill, destroy, or remove a large proportion of’, as in the virus has decimated the population. Some traditionalists argue that this is incorrect, but it is clear that it is now part of standard English
 

HareBrain

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#4
I'm a bit torn on this one. I can't help seeing the "dec" as meaning ten, so I want to keep the historical meaning. And as you say, we have other words for total destruction, such an annihilate (ooh, spelled it right first go) so why do we need another one, unless we're writing Warhammer 40K?

On the other hand, reducing something by 10% is awfully specific. When would you use it? Would it be acceptable to use it when something is reduced by 9%? The potential for writing angst is off the scale.
 

Ursa major

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#5
We have to give viruses a bit of latitude: they have never demonstrated an ability to count, let alone do fractions. (To be honest, they're not too good with numbers in general....)
 

TheDustyZebra

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#6
I'm with history on this one -- it always makes me crazy when it's used in the modern sense.

Although, at the same time, I can't help hearing the modern sense in it and thinking it means more than the word implies.
 

Phyrebrat

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#7
Ah, so it's not just me, then.

Did you Google it, dude? Because Google says the ten percent thing is the 'historical' meaning. And Google never lies.
Of course I Googled it; I always do that when I need to know what to think. :D

On the other hand, reducing something by 10% is awfully specific. When would you use it? Would it be acceptable to use it when something is reduced by 9%? The potential for writing angst is off the scale.
I'm tempted to use annihil as a noun. Also nonalate for your 9%. It's when we get into decimal points we get into problems. Thankfully the only non-integer destruction I've had to use in my wip was a reduction of the population by 3.14% so it was simply a case of Pihilation (I hope @Ursa major is proud of my punnery).

I'm with history on this one -- it always makes me crazy when it's used in the modern sense.

Although, at the same time, I can't help hearing the modern sense in it and thinking it means more than the word implies.
This is how I feel. I wondered if I was being a pedant though.

pH
 

Ursa major

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#8
I've had to use in my wip was a reduction of the population by 3.14% so it was simply a case of Pihilation (I hope @Ursa major is proud of my punnery).
I'd be even more impressed if those who were killed had been rounded up first (perhaps by, or using, a mysterious force :rolleyes:).


(By the way, am I allowed to suggest that this is all floccinaucinihilipilification?)
 

The Judge

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#9
Yep, my first instinct on seeing it used to mean "killed a lot of people" is to jump up and down yelling that it's wrong, but it's been used wrongly since the C17th, so I can't see it being limited to its correct meaning any time soon.

HB, the 10% arises since it was a punishment when 1 in 10 would be executed, so perhaps that's when it should be used, only when it's a specific punishment.
 

Overread

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#11
I notice a lot of times that this word is used to mean 'total destruction' when my good friend Stephen Fry tells me that to decimate is to reduce by ten percent.

Are we confusing it with 'annihilate' or now, in the spirit of evolving language, does decimate mean either?

pH
Ahh but don't forget Mr Fry also said this

Even Latin, a "dead" language still evolves today through its use in science. Granted some evolutions of language are more desirable than others (leet or text talk is not what I want to see fillling books ;))
 

pyan

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#14
Not just in Roman times, either:

'For failing to stand and fight in the war’s opening weeks, the French high command ordered every tenth man in a company of the Mixed Algerian Infantry Regiment (Régiment Mixte de Tirailleurs Algériens) to be shot by firing squad. The sentences were all carried out on Dec. 15, 1914.'

“Removal of a Tenth” – A Brief and Bloody History of Decimation
 

WarriorMouse

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#15
I've always understood the two words in this context.
Decimate... to remove enough individuals to cause the collapse of a unit. ie removing all the officers in an army would cause it to loose effectiveness.
Annihilate... to remove all the individuals of a unit. ie killing every person in an army is to annihilate that army
 
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CTRandall

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#17
Now that that's settled, can anyone tell me what a califragilisticexpialidocious is and what might go on top of it? (I apologize in advance for spelling. I didn't google it first.)
 

Abernovo

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#18
Well, for a start, it's quite atrocious!
And, to think anything could go atop it is rather precocious.


Aww, come on. Someone was gonna have to say it.
*leaves, with coat and hat, followed by a bear*
 

J Riff

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#20
Well, my wordweb prog says: Kill one in ten, or: Kill in large numbers, but lists synonyms like: wipe out, eradicate, extinguish, eliminate..so it does seem to be leaning that way.
 

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