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?