Speedbump #328

Here we go again.  In this article, the following sentence emerges to stick itself like a needle into one’s eye:

A huge fire has erupted in the rubble of Beirut’s port just 37 days after an explosion decimated the city.


The original meaning of the word “decimate” was to reduce by 10% — for example, the punishment for a Roman legion which fled the battle field was to line them all up, pull every tenth legionary out of the ranks and execute them — hence decimation, from the Latin word for “ten”.

I know that in modern parlance the word “decimate” has been clumsily used to indicate catastrophe, and it’s become so widespread that I now only register mild irritation — say, 20 rounds’ worth — when I hear it thus used.

But good grief, can we at least stipulate that decimation can only be applied to a numerical value?  The Chinkvirus, say, might decimate a group of people in a retirement home;  but you can’t “decimate” a city, or a field of wheat, or a river — it just makes fuck-all sense, not that modern journalists ever apply that yardstick to their silly scribblings.

Is it too early for a mid-morning martini?  I think not.


  1. It is an uphill battle, I am afraid, to get people to use our useful language correctly. Look at the use of “loose” for “lose” , “it’s” for “its” and the sprinkling of apostrophes for plurals.

    As Winston Churchill said “You can’t throw stones at every barking dog” , but I think we could try that approach with people who don’t know the basics.

  2. Churchill’s full quote is : “You will never reach your destination if you stop and throw stones at every dog that barks.”
    Please excuse my vague memory.

  3. Ahh, yes, the general feeling of discomfort one feels when reading what passes for journalism these days. How can we deal with the appalling misdefinitions of perfectly good words, while mourning the loss of the Oxford comma?

    Gather ye to me, my brothers, and let us repeat – “GET OFF OF MY LAWN, YOU MISCREANTS!”

    Now, doesn’t that feel better? 🙂

    1. As I read what passed for journalism these days, I swear I can hear my High School English Comp teacher weeping quietly. I learned more about composition from her than any other, mostly because I paid attention to every word she said. I did this because she was a Natalie Wood look-alike.

      And libertyman, I too am a fount of mostly trivial information.

  4. Yep, the misuse of decimate drives me nuts too. Using the media definition they might as well say one decimates the basil when making pesto. Uggggh !

  5. The correct punishment for mis-decimation is defenestration.

    They shall die… confusedly!

    Sunk New Dawn
    Galveston, TX

    1. My idea of a classic defenestration is the scene in Braveheart when Longshanks pitches his son’s Nancyboy friend out the window of the castle.

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