decimate vs annihilate, slaughter, etc. : Common Errors in English

About decimate vs annihilate, slaughter, etc.

This comes under the heading of the truly picky. Despite the fact that most dictionaries have caved in, some of us still remember that when the Romans killed one out of every ten (decem) soldiers in a rebellious group as an example to the others, they decimated them. People sensitive to the roots of words are uncomfortably reminded of that ten percent figure when they see the word used instead to mean “annihilate,” “obliterate,” etc. You can usually get away with using “decimate” to mean “drastically reduce in numbers,” but you’re taking a bigger risk when you use it to mean “utterly wipe out.”

decimate Meaning(s)

  • (v) kill one in every ten, as of mutineers in Roman armies
  • (v) kill in large numbers

decimate in News

  • Baseball bats made of ash thrown a curve (Part I of II)

    The emerald ash borer, an invasive species expected to decimate native ash trees throughout North America, arrived in southwestern Otsego County in May. Cooperstown, the home of baseball, sits in the same county about 30 miles northeast. Of the 1,935 bats in the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum’s collection, 1,848 are ash.
    on June 16, 2013 Source: The Observer-Dispatch

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