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DECIMATE

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DECIMATE

Postby Dr. Goodword » Thu May 11, 2006 10:08 pm

• decimate •

Pronunciation: de-sê-mayt • Hear it!

Part of Speech: Verb, transitive.

Meaning: 1. Originally, to reduce by one tenth; first used in the Roman army, where every tenth deserter was put to death. 2. To reduce dramatically in size or number. 3. To inflict great damage or destruction.

Notes: Today's word is often used as a synonym of annihilate. The distinction reflected in these two words, however, is too important to lose. To annihilate something is to destroy and remove all traces of it (from Latin nihil "nothing"). To decimate something is simply to reduce it dramatically. The verb may be used as a noun itself if you simply reduce the final syllable from -mayt to -mêt: decimate [de-sê-mêt] "a tithe". There is also a regular action noun decimation [de-sê-may-shên] "the act or process of decimating".

In Play: Today we have to be careful using decimate in its original sense but with an appropriate qualifier, it can work if the person you are talking with is familiar with the word: "If we roughly decimate the deer population annually, it would actually strengthen the herds over time." The use of roughly in this sentence suggests that we are referring to a reduction of 10 percent. In the usually sense, the implication is more pejorative: "The staff cuts decimated the morale in the office and made it much more difficult to work there."

Word History: Today's Good Word originates in the same Latin stem as decimal "a tenth" from decem "ten". The root dekm- in the ancient Proto-Indo-European (PIE) language, from which most languages of Europe and India derive, is the source of Latin decem "ten". The month of December is so named because is was the tenth month of the Roman calendar. English ten and Russian deset' "ten", which descended from the same PIE root, show differences that accumulated ove the roughly 7000 years since PIE was spoken. (Simply saying "thank you" to Eden Ellman for suggesting today's Good Word expresses only a tenth of our actual gratitude.)
Last edited by Dr. Goodword on Fri May 12, 2006 10:08 am, edited 1 time in total.
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Postby scw1217 » Fri May 12, 2006 7:09 am

I was surprised by the first meaning of this word and had never associated it in my mind with a "tenth" of anything. All of that being very informative and interesting, your example sentence re the deer, just doesn't click with me, right or wrong gramatically. I still read it as destroy "the deer population". Am I wrong to suspect that most people wouldn't know of meaning #1?
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Postby frank » Fri May 12, 2006 8:59 am

From History of war:
The word decimate in the English language has come to mean to destroy or slaughter something but the word has an older historical meaning. The military context of the word can be traced back to the Romans, where the decimation of a military unit was a form of punishment and a way of enforcing military discipline. The word decimate comes from the Latin word decimare meaning to take or destroy one-tenth (from the Latin word decem meaning ten). For a Roman legion deemed to have failed in its duties this meant that one in ten legionnaires would be selected, stripped of their armour and beaten to death by their comrades. This would obviously kill one tenth and therefore decimate the offending legion. Marcus Licinius Crassus enforced an example of this during his campaign against the renegade gladiator Spartacus. Crassus’s legate Mummius engaged the rebel gladiators early, against Crassus’s wishes, and was defeated. 500 men of the legion involved were deemed to have shown cowardice and Crassus had one tenth killed - that is he decimated the legion to restore discipline. Strong parallels can be drawn between this action and those of the Soviet Union's commissars in World War 2 whose role was to install discipline and restore morale, often in a brutal fashion and frequently with the deaths of those thought to be showing cowardice.
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Postby tcward » Fri May 12, 2006 9:51 am

...Crassus had one tenth killed - that is he decimated the legion to restore discipline.


I could see English crass having arisen from such behavior... but I guess that would be too easy.

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Ooops! Correction.

Postby Dr. Goodword » Fri May 12, 2006 10:10 am

Somehow the most important original meaning managed to get itself overlooked in today's word. I just made the correction.
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Re: Ooops! Correction.

Postby scw1217 » Fri May 12, 2006 3:10 pm

Dr. Goodword wrote:Somehow the most important original meaning managed to get itself overlooked in today's word. I just made the correction.


Very interesting stuff. Thanks to frank for posting the extra info.
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Postby Stargzer » Fri May 12, 2006 3:55 pm

frank wrote:From History of war:
. . . Strong parallels can be drawn between this action and those of the Soviet Union's commissars in World War 2 whose role was to install discipline and restore morale, often in a brutal fashion and frequently with the deaths of those thought to be showing cowardice.


I remember reading that the Germans found the Russians to be extremely tough fighters, with good reason. If captured by the Germans, they were executed as Communists. If caught coming back from the front lines against orders, even to pick up more ammunition, they were executed as deserters. Talk about being caught between a rock and a hard place!
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Postby Perry » Mon May 15, 2006 12:32 pm

Maybe one of those magazines aimed at mercenaries could feature the decimate of the month? :roll:
Last edited by Perry on Tue May 23, 2006 8:35 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Russian escapees

Postby Dr. Goodword » Mon May 15, 2006 2:15 pm

Actually, the Russians were usually not executed when they returned from Germany but, like Ivan Denisovich in Solzhenitsyn's novel, One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich, were sent to a labor camp. Solzhenitsyn himself was sentenced to 8 years in a labor camp for referring to Stalin as "the mustacchioed one" in a letter home from the front.

Of course, there was a thin line between being sentenced to a Siberian labor camp and being sentenced to death.
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Postby gailr » Mon May 15, 2006 8:22 pm

Perry wrote:Maybe one of those magazines aimed at mercenaries could feture the decimate of the month? :roll:

This has possibilities within the civilian sector as well, Perry: public libraries needing to crack down on, oh, let's call them "long-term" borrowers, could post the photos of the Dewey Decimate of the month!
-gailr

ps: you've piqued my curiosity about the "feture" though... :D
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Postby Stargzer » Tue May 16, 2006 2:06 pm

Actually, I was referring not to prisoners returning from Germany but those on the front line, especially in the Battle of Stalingrad:
Amid the debris of the wrecked city, the Soviet 62nd Army anchored their defense lines with strongpoints in houses and factories. Fighting was fierce and desperate. The life expectancy of a newly-arrived Soviet private in the city dropped to less than twenty-four hours. Stalin's Order No. 227 of July 27, 1942 decreed that all those who retreated or otherwise left their positions without orders could be summarily shot. "Not a step back!" was the slogan. The Germans pushing forward into Stalingrad suffered heavy casualties.

. . .

Soviet victory

Germans inside the pocket retreated from the suburbs of Stalingrad to the city itself. The loss of the two airfields at Pitomnik and Gumrak meant an end to air supplies and to the evacuation of the wounded. The Germans were now literally starving, and running out of ammunition. Nevertheless they continued to resist stubbornly, partly because they believed the Soviets would execute those who surrendered. In particular, the so-called "HiWi" troops, ex-Soviets fighting for the Germans, had no illusions about their fate if captured. The Soviets, in turn, were initially surprised by the large number of German forces they had trapped, and had to reinforce their encircling forces. Bloody urban warfare began again in Stalingrad, but this time it was the Germans who were pushed back to the banks of the Volga.
Regards//Larry

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Postby Bailey » Tue May 16, 2006 6:15 pm

Stargzer wrote:
Stalin's Order No. 227 of July 27, 1942 decreed that all those who retreated or otherwise left their positions without orders could be summarily shot. "Not a step back!" was the slogan. The Germans pushing forward into Stalingrad suffered heavy casualties.



Soviet victory

Germans inside the pocket retreated from the suburbs of Stalingrad to the city itself. The loss of the two airfields at Pitomnik and Gumrak meant an end to air supplies and to the evacuation of the wounded. The Germans were now literally starving, and running out of ammunition. Nevertheless they continued to resist stubbornly, partly because they believed the Soviets would execute those who surrendered. In particular, the so-called "HiWi" troops, ex-Soviets fighting for the Germans, had no illusions about their fate if captured. The Soviets, in turn, were initially surprised by the large number of German forces they had trapped, and had to reinforce their encircling forces. Bloody urban warfare began again in Stalingrad, but this time it was the Germans who were pushed back to the banks of the Volga.

So, apparently Patton was right and this type of encouragement reaps vast rewards, especially if you can cut off the enemies support, a different gauge of railroad track helps too.(must have something to do with cyrillic alphabet too, I suppose :))

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