I’ll take one decimation and raise you…

February 29th, 2012
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“Paille faces the daunting job of trying to bring back the party that was all but decimated in a disastrous showing in last May’s election.” -CP story, repeated on the CTV website last December

This was one of those Stupidisms you just had to wait for, because the word is now so commonly misused, that it was bound to turn up eventually. Whether it’s due more to simple inflation of meaning or ignorance of the real meaning – or both – is debatable. Certainly, the knowledge that decimate comes from how the Roman army dealt with disgraced or insubordinate troops, seems largely lacking. The punishment was to have the soldiers draw lots so that one in ten was executed by his peers. That would be ten percent.

Obviously, the Bloc Quebecois were much more than decimated in last year’s election. But somehow decimated has, for some people, come to be synonymous with “almost annihilated”. I was amazed to find out that the, otherwise brilliant, palaeontologist Stephen J. Gould fed this error by maintaining that decimate could be used to indicate the “taking of nine in ten”. Astoundingly there is even some reference to the inflation of decimate in the Oxford English Dictionary. Unbelievable.

Just as amazing is the fact that CTV purged the word from the CP story on its website since it first appeared. Will wonders never cease?

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By John Weissenberger