\ \ [17] Decimate is a cause célèbre amongst those who apparently believe that words should never change their meanings. The original general signification of its Latin source, the verb decimāre, was the removal or destruction of one tenth (it was derived from Latin decemten’), and it may perhaps strike the 20th century as odd to have a particular word for such an apparently abstruse operation. It does, however, arise out of two very specific procedures in the ancient world: the exaction of a tax of one tenth (for which indeed English has the ultimately related word tithe), and the practice in the Roman army of punishing a body of soldiers guilty of some crime such as mutiny by choosing one in ten of them by lot to be put to death. Modern English does not perhaps have much use for a verb with such specialized senses, but the general notion of impassive and indiscriminate slaughter implied in the Roman military use led, apparently as early as the mid- 17th century, to the modern sense ‘kill or destroy most of’.

Word origins - 2ed. . 2005.

Look at other dictionaries:

  • Decimate — Dec i*mate, v. t. [imp. & p. p. {Decimated}; p. pr. & vb. n. {Decimating}.] [L. decimatus, p. p. of decimare to decimate (in senses 1 & 2), fr. decimus tenth. See {Decimal}.] 1. To take the tenth part of; to tithe. Johnson. [1913 Webster] 2. To… …   The Collaborative International Dictionary of English

  • decimate — has changed its meaning because the old one is no longer needed. Historically, decimate means ‘to kill one person in ten’, and had its origin in military punishments. As the need for this meaning diminished, a new one emerged, the now familiar… …   Modern English usage

  • decimate — ► VERB 1) kill or destroy a large proportion of. 2) drastically reduce the strength of. DERIVATIVES decimation noun. USAGE The earliest sense of decimate was ‘kill one in every ten of’, a reference to the ancient Roman practice of killing one in… …   English terms dictionary

  • decimate — index destroy (efface), diminish, disarm (divest of arms), eliminate (eradicate), lessen, minimize …   Law dictionary

  • decimate — c.1600, in reference to the practice of punishing mutinous military units by capital execution of one in every 10, by lot; from L. decimatus, pp. of decimare (see DECIMATION (Cf. decimation)). Killing one in ten, chosen by lots, from a rebellious …   Etymology dictionary

  • decimate — [v] destroy annihilate, butcher*, commit genocide, execute, exterminate, kill off, massacre, obliterate, slaughter, stamp out, wipe out; concept 252 …   New thesaurus

  • decimate — [des′ə māt΄] vt. decimated, decimating [< L decimatus, pp. of decimare < decem, TEN] 1. Obs. to select by lot and kill every tenth one of 2. to destroy or kill a large part of [famine decimated the population] 3. Obs. to take a tenth part… …   English World dictionary

  • decimate — [[t]de̱sɪmeɪt[/t]] decimates, decimating, decimated 1) VERB To decimate something such as a group of people or animals means to destroy a very large number of them. [V n] The pollution could decimate the river s thriving population of kingfishers …   English dictionary

  • decimate — decimation, n. decimator, n. /des euh mayt /, v.t., decimated, decimating. 1. to destroy a great number or proportion of: The population was decimated by a plague. 2. to select by lot and kill every tenth person of. 3. Obs. to take a tenth of or… …   Universalium

  • decimate — verb Decimate is used with these nouns as the subject: ↑injury Decimate is used with these nouns as the object: ↑army …   Collocations dictionary

  • decimate — UK [ˈdesɪmeɪt] / US [ˈdesɪˌmeɪt] verb [transitive] Word forms decimate : present tense I/you/we/they decimate he/she/it decimates present participle decimating past tense decimated past participle decimated to spoil or destroy something, for… …   English dictionary

Share the article and excerpts

Direct link
Do a right-click on the link above
and select “Copy Link”

We are using cookies for the best presentation of our site. Continuing to use this site, you agree with this.