Feeds

El Reg decimates English language

Our beloved mother tongue reduced by one tenth to rubble

The Power of One Brief: Top reasons to choose HP BladeSystem

Ah yes, it's the old "decimate" controversy - a hobby horse ridden so hard by the prescription lobby that the legs have pretty well fallen off the poor bloody animal.

Make no mistake, this is a serious business. No journo worth his or her salt has resisted the temptation to bore the arse off some pub audience with the little-known fact that decimate means "to reduce by one tenth", and anyone who says otherwise obviously never attended hackery school where the first lesson is dedicated entirely to the term, its correct deployment and how an insight into its etymology grants a licence to smug your drinking companions into lexicographical submission.

In fact, and as any ful no, decimate has two meanings: the Latin-derived original sense and the contemporary alternative. Here's what Merriam Webster has to say on the latter:

3 a: to reduce drastically especially in number <cholera decimated the population> b: to cause great destruction or harm to <firebombs decimated the city> <an industry decimated by recession>

The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language chips in with: "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."

Chambers, meanwhile, confirms:

decimate verb (decimated, decimating) to reduce greatly in number; to destroy a large part or number of something. decimation noun. decimator noun.
ETYMOLOGY: 17c in this sense1; 16c in historical sense 'to select by lot and execute one in every ten': from Latin decimare to take a tenth person or thing, from decem ten.

Not good enough for ya? Try the Guardian's Style Guide, which says that decimate is "nowadays used to mean destroy".

Here's some confirmation, gleaned from the interweb: try Macquarie Marshes decimated by earth work projects, Crews recover 3 bodies, locate 3 more in Georgia sugar refinery decimated by explosion or Czech bee population decimated by parasite.

Seven Steps to Software Security

Next page: Notes

More from The Register

next story
NSA man: 'Tell me about your Turkish connections'
Spooks ask Dabbsy to suggest a nice hotel with pool
Carlos: Slim your working week to just three days of toil
'Midas World' vision suggests you retire later, watch more tellie and buy more stuff
Motorist 'thought car had caught fire' as Adele track came on stereo
'FIRE' caption on dashboard prompts dunderheaded hard shoulder halt
Yahoo! Japan! launches! service! for! the! dead!
If you're reading this email, I am no longer alive
Plucky Rockall podule man back on (proper) dry land
Bold, barmy Brit adventurer Nick Hancock escapes North Atlantic islet
Russia sends SEX-CRAZED GECKOS to SPAAAAACE!
In space... no one can hear you're green...
prev story

Whitepapers

Designing a Defense for Mobile Applications
Learn about the various considerations for defending mobile applications - from the application architecture itself to the myriad testing technologies.
Implementing global e-invoicing with guaranteed legal certainty
Explaining the role local tax compliance plays in successful supply chain management and e-business and how leading global brands are addressing this.
Top 8 considerations to enable and simplify mobility
In this whitepaper learn how to successfully add mobile capabilities simply and cost effectively.
Seven Steps to Software Security
Seven practical steps you can begin to take today to secure your applications and prevent the damages a successful cyber-attack can cause.
Boost IT visibility and business value
How building a great service catalog relieves pressure points and demonstrates the value of IT service management.