Home » Frequently Asked Questions » Decimate Etymology

Decimate Etymology

Play episode

The word decimate has a grisly etymology. It derives from a Latin military term meaning “to execute every tenth man in an army unit”— the penalty for a failed mutiny. As a result, some sticklers insist that the English word decimate should be used only to indicate “destroying a fraction of something” rather than “destroy completely” or “utterly wipe out.” Who’s right? This is part of a complete episode.

Leave a comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

More from this show

Catillate, Agelastic, and Latibulate

Inkhorn terms are bloated, fancy, show-off words formed by cramming Latin and Greek roots into English. The name references little bottles made from animal horn that 14th-century English scribes used to carry their ink. Lexicographer Henry...

All Out Are In Free!

Kylie Ryan, an elementary-school teacher in Seattle, Washington, remembers that when she played hide-and-seek as a child, the call for everyone to come in was alle alle oxen free. Are there other versions? Yes, and because these sayings were not...

Frequently Asked Questions