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decimate, decimation

Decimate (noun form: decimation) does not mean to wipe out completely.

Originally, decimate meant to reduce by one-tenth.

  • When a Roman legion lost a battle, the commander would order every tenth man to be executed, thus decimating the legion.
  • True decimation is the removal of 10 percent of a population.

However, decimate has long been used to mean “reduce by a large proportion.”

  • After the First World War, the Spanish flu decimated Europe.
  • Did DDT spraying decimate shore bird populations?