The Eight Deadly Sin: Misusing The Word ‘Decimate’ (The Daily Post)

This is a Daily Post daily prompt challenge. For more, see below.

The Eighth Sin

Decimate is a fabulous word, but a woefully misused one. Deployed properly, it could enrich the English language immeasurably but, instead, exists purely to torment pedants (Class 2) like me.
In essence, it means to reduce something by one tenth part. I’ve heard Pedants (Class 1) work themselves up into frenzies over whether it related to tithing or to killing Roman soldiers but frankly who cares? Anyone who can be reduced to tears through the strategic placement of apostrophe’s (1) is unlikely to have an opinion worth listening to. The bottom line is that decimate’s a great word to describe a particular thing, for which there aren’t many other words but every time someone uses it as yet another synonym for ‘destroy’, they’re contributing to the decline of the English language. When challenged, these miscreants will shrug and say ‘meanings evolve’. They might be right but this isn’t evolution, it’s regression to the mean.
The purpose of this exercise was to make a case for an eighth deadly sin but, I suspect that if a firm of management consultants were called in to cast their eye over the original seven, misusing ‘decimate’ would be a shoo in ahead of sloth or envy. If they decided that greed and gluttony are basically the same thing, then they might even find room for using ‘enormity’ to denote something very big. It’d be trebles all round, until they realise that St Peter has already bumped wrath from the list and replaced it with ‘being a management consultant’ to get out of paying them. Well, it’d hardly be his fault if he misunderstood their offer to decimate the bill if he promised to let then in ‘no questions asked’ when their time came.

(1) See what I did?


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