Adventures In Pedantry – The Definition of Decimate



I’m not sure what it is about Mixed Martial Arts writers and announcers, but “decimate” is one of their favorite words. Someone gets a bad beating, like Josh Koscheck getting his orbital smashed up by GSP, and we are treated to lines like “Koscheck was decimated by…”

I know that decimate is understood in this context to be a hellacious beatdown, but what is the definition of decimate? I’m going to venture beyond the safety of Google’s define feature, and I’m even going to go beyond When in doubt, if you really care, go to the Oxford English Dictionary.

Here are four different definitions of decimate:

1. To exact a tenth or a tithe from

2. To divide into tenths, divide decimally

3. To select by lot and put to death one in every ten

4. To kill, destroy, or remove one in every ten of

And then, filed under “rhetorically or loosely” is the definition we’re usually getting: To subject to severe loss, slaughter, or mortality.

The definition comes across either way, but it generally means something along the lines of removing one in ten of something.

Perhaps one day we’ll see an MMA fight where a combatant loses exactly one tenth of his body due to trauma and I’ll be able to cheer for the learned announcers.


2 thoughts on “Adventures In Pedantry – The Definition of Decimate

  1. No offense to MMA fighters, announcers, or especially writers (there is a new book coming out by a guy named Cameron Conaway called -Caged: Memoirs of a Cage-Fighting Poet- that I am VERY excited about), but in my experience/observation, most of them don’t know a lot of big words. And when they do learn one, even if their understanding of the word’s meaning is, at best (as here) loose, they will use it with frequency and abandon.

    Of course this only makes me more want to become an MMA fighter/announcer/poet. So many dreams, so little time.

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