Mind you, a plucky few are still using the word as God intended. Under the headline "Sacramento city jobs could be decimated" the Sacramento Business Journal explains2: "Budget problems mean the city of Sacramento is 'facing elimination of approximately 500 positions' in the coming year, according to a report to the City Council released Friday, or nearly one out of every 10 city jobs."
Good show, although we suspect the inclusion here of "nearly" might not satisfy purists. If the total of job losses is not in fact as anticipated, and perhaps even greater, might we suggest the use of inkhorn neologisms "nonimate" or "octomate"?
In summary: decimate is now used to mean "destroy". This is neither incorrect nor is it an outrage against common linguistic decency, and to say otherwise is, frankly, pissing in the wind.
The English language is changing, for better or worse. There are many who view the apparently unstoppable rise of greengrocers apostrophe's3, split infinitives, dangling participles, loss of the aspirated "wh", blah, blah, blah, with a sort of soul-sapping dread.
Back in 1926, however, the famed HW Fowler was chilled enough in his Modern English Usage to acknowledge that the evolution of English was not necessarily leading inexorably to catastrophe. The use of decimate to mean “the destruction in any way of a large proportion of anything reckoned by number” was, he conceded, "natural".
We'll leave it to you lot to ponder George Bush's nucular policy and the scandal of "for free", and conclude by noting that on the matter of "nouveau cretanism", we personally prefer "usuage", "ignorent", "ignorence" rendered as "usage", "ignorant" and "ignorance", but then we're a bit old skool ourselves when it comes to spelling, innit? ®
1 The OED agrees, stating that since the mid-17th century, decimate has been used to mean "destroy or remove a large proportion of".
2 For more on the US battle of decimation, try this article from the Boston Globe.
3 In 1985, Robert Burchfield wrote in his excellent The English Language: "The prevalence of incorrect instances of the use of the apostrophe at the present time....suggests that the time is close at hand when this moderately useful device should be abandoned."
@The Other Steve
"Come on guys, the days of RP, Standard English and everyone on telly wearing evening dress are long behind us, and good riddance to them. There are far more interesting things to be pedantic about. Like the internet not having been designed to survive a nuclear war, or the true progression of windows version numbers :-)"
Yes, indeed. However misuse of sayings does still make some people come across as ignorant twats - I'm thinking of such as:
"Off his own back"
"One foul swoop"
"A bit of a damp squid"
and so on... The first in particular just makes me want to scream, "Bat, bat, you f*cking idiot; how many cricket runs have you seen scored off someone's back, you utter cretin!!!..." I'm not sure that's what Norman Tebbit meant though...
Yep, two common 'puns' on numbers-as-words don't strictly work:
a) "to" - pron. "tuh"
b) "two" - pron. "toow"
c) "too" - pron. "tooh"
a) "for" - pron. "fohr"
b) "four" - pron. "foor"
Whether it's just ignorant yoof, we should also have,
"you're" - pron. "yoowr" - which I txt as "ur" (you are)
"your" - pron. "yawr" - which I txt as "yr"
Ignorance is Bliss...
I liked better when I thought that 'decimated' meant that only 1/10th of anything survived!
We even changed our Team Fortress messages to "Blue Team was decimated", which meant that in a team with 10 guys, only one was still standing!
Same goes for Quake and Halo!
Mine is the bloody and gory one, lined with chain mail on the inside, with shrapnel cuts, bullet holes and a sawed-off shotgun concealed in the back.