Word of the Week – Week #16

Hello and Welcome.

Our word for this week is decimate.

According to Merriam Wester the word decimate means:

1: to select by lot and kill every tenth man

2: to exact a tax of 10 percent

3a: to reduce drastically especially in number

b: to cause great destruction or harm to

Today as I was pondering the fate of our cherry crop after last nights freezing temperatures this word came to mind. Over the years I have repeatedly heard my husband talk of people misusing this word. He would explain that while others were using it to describe total destruction of something, it really only meant a reduction of 10% or one-tenth.

While looking at the Merriam Webster page (linked above) I noticed that my husband was not the only one who saw this word as being misused or perhaps abused. At the bottom of that web page there is a comments section where many people have voiced their disapproval of it being used as definitions 3a&b. There were so many comments in fact that Merriam Webster found it necessary to write a separate explanation or justification.

I do understand that word meanings, especially in the English language, evolve over time and quite honestly I sometimes find it frustrating. In the case of the word decimate the definitions cover such a broad range (10% to 100%) that I wonder if it is even worth using. There are many synonyms that could be used instead.

Our cherry tree, however, might be an exception. At this time I can safely say that the freezing temperatures will decimate our crop because I expect our loss will be somewhere between 10% and 100%. In other words we just don’t know.

How do you feel about word definitions changing?

Are there any specific word changes that have bothered you?

17 thoughts on “Word of the Week – Week #16

  1. Very thought-provoking. I have to admit that I hear most people use this word as “total destruction.” However, when I stop and think about it “deci-mation,” it makes sense that it only is 10%.

    Normally, I am not a fan of the added meanings that are taken in because enough people misuse the word. I never used this word a lot, but now I will be even more conscious to not use it in the wrong sense, even if others would understand what I meant. There are too many words that have their meanings changed.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I’m glad you found this useful. I do think writers, reporters and others in the communications business should strive to make their communications clear to those they are addressing. If a word can be widely misconstrued then find a better word or why bother?

      Liked by 1 person

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