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#24191 - 03/24/01 02:47 AM Re:epizootic: an interrogatory speculation
Max Quordlepleen Offline
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Registered: 08/12/00
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The new term contains not just the notion of what the event (the decimation) ought to be, but its transcendence. By inscribing the word with the image of its own transcendence, does hyperbole force the word beyond its limits and produce something new, and signifying something more than it might otherwise have done?

An intriguing idea, and one that I like the sound of. It certainly sounds a lot better than my somewhat snide replies to Dr. Bill.



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#24192 - 03/24/01 09:59 AM re sense shifts
tsuwm Online   confused
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I am mostly with Max on this issue; sense shift and transferral happen, and there's no turning the tide. but 'decimate' is a particularly bad example for which to carry the flag. I say this for more than one reason:

1. the first recorded English usage was in the tithing sense mentioned above. (mid 16C)

2. the "punishment" sense was used mainly in historical, military contexts (i.e., not popularly) (late 16C)

3. the sense then shifted to the selection of 1 in 10 for anything (obs, rare - 17C/18C)

4. then, by transferral, it was applied to (A)the killing or destruction of one in ten and (B) destruction of a large proportion; subjection to severe loss, slaughter, or mortality (late 17C and on)

think about how decimate would have been used in (A) and (B) and how the meanings would have become blurred. 1856 J. H. Newman Callista The population is prostrated by+pestilence, and by the decimation which their riot brought upon them. what percentage do you suppose was meant here? we can't know, out of context, but it was certainly not 10%.

5. there is this odd citation from 1867: Freeman Norm. Conquest A systematic decimation of the surviving male adults. By decimation is here meant the slaying, not of one out of ten, but of nine out of ten.

[Bill, you'll need a time machine to fight this battle.]

addendum
by sheer coincidence, I am reading a book ["Enemy at the Gates: The Battle for Stalingrad" (an Inspiration for a Major Motion Picture 8).] in which is related a story of one Russian commander who, faced with mass desertions, "acted decisively to curb the epidemic. [gratuitous topic reference] Calling a general assembly... [he] berated them... moved purposefully to the long lines... and began counting.... As he reached the tenth man, he wheeled and shot him in the head." [repeats until pistol emptied, six dead]

does he use the word 'decimate'? no, but only two pages later we find this phrase: "as Russian antitank guns pummeled his armor and decimated his granadiers." [the book is ca. 1973]

final edit (I hope)
some might misapply the word "ironic" to this incidental juxtaposition. (or maybe he had a really sharp editor ; )


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#24193 - 03/24/01 10:26 AM Re:epizootic
musick Offline
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The difference between "people" and "animals" is important.

"Necropsy" could quite properly be used for post mortem exaimation of either humans or animals.


How important is it, really?


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#24194 - 03/24/01 10:41 AM Re: re sense shifts
inselpeter Offline
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Registered: 03/14/01
Posts: 2379
Loc: New York City
Well! I almost killed this after posting as a late night rant!

think about how decimate would have been used in (A) and (B) and how the meanings would have become blurred. 1856 J. H. Newman Callista The population is prostrated by+pestilence, and by the decimation which their riot brought upon them. what percentage do you suppose was meant here? we can't know, out of context, but it was certainly not 10%.

[ref: red] But that's exactly my point. I *don't* know what percentage might be meant, only that it is significantly greater than 10%. Since the change is only "very large," and the result of a specific multiple, the impact on natural language is much stronger. The extrapolation need not be complete or precise -- only extreme. It this case, it is the sense of the extreme, not its quantity, that is expressed. It seems to me this comports well with the late 17C meaning you cite, "(A)the killing or destruction of one in ten and (B) destruction of a large proportion; subjection to severe loss, slaughter, or mortality."

(Note: "extrapolation" is probably an unfortunate choice of words, it was the best I could come up with.)

tsuwm, do you have anything on the orthographical shift phenomenon.


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#24195 - 03/24/01 10:49 AM Re: re sense shifts
tsuwm Online   confused
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inselp, I'm afraid I don't quite *get your point. are you saying you have a need to know the actual percentage? I don't think you are, but.

>the result of a specific multiple
what does this mean?

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#24196 - 03/24/01 11:21 AM Re: re sense shifts
inselpeter Offline
Pooh-Bah

Registered: 03/14/01
Posts: 2379
Loc: New York City
need to know %

[This is very hard to do concisely, I appreciate your bearing with me as I try]

No! Just the opposite! If it were a matter of discrete number, the 'comparison' wouldn't work.

The contrast "contained" in the meaning of your 17C usage is ***not*** numerically expressed; the impact would be lost if it ***were***.

***IF*** I am right, and the (e.g.) 17C usage contains the trace of the word's earlier meaning, what is conveyed is simply that there is an *enormous* difference between that 10% once designated and ruin before the later (e.g,, 17C) user.

It is **not** the number change, but "viscerally" experienced change that is significant. That is to say, when "decimate," which once meant "tithe" (or other 10% taking), is applied to a ruinous event, the contrast between that more manageable original meaning and the present actual ruin is brought to the fore. The impact on understanding is not clinical, but palpable (like Hecuba's "gone all gone" -- she doesn't go around taking a numeric inventory of her losses, but wails and laments "all is gone").

This contrast is probably lost among modern users, but that doesn't mean it would not have been apparent in some way, to, e.g., 17C users (who were, perhaps, more familiar than us with the concept of tithing -- and with the sort of warfare in which one would speak of 10% dead as a kind*, and not merely as a figure of casualties*)

The encapsulated contrast is the poetry of the word and **not** its past to present ratio in number.

--As I say, this is hard to do in a couple of lines. Is that at all clearer. (and do you promise to tell me if you know anything about "amor"?)

*Incidentally, I think it would also be worth thinking about the relationship of the senses "tithing" and "war dead". The latter being a kind of "tithe to the Lord" perhaps (particularly if applied to losses during Crusades) ???

IP



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#24197 - 03/24/01 11:50 AM Re: re sense shifts
tsuwm Online   confused
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inselp,

gotcha. see also earlier discussion of enantiodromic word shifts (words which are their own antonym). [yart]


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#24198 - 03/24/01 12:00 PM Re: re sense shifts
wwh Offline
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Registered: 01/18/01
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Dear Pooh-Bah I,aka tsuwm: Thanks for you helpful post about the antiquity of the change in "decimate". I now see that I was grievously in error in thinking it was of much more recent occurrence, perhaps of less than a hundred years.
But with the epidemic, epizootic problem it does not seem that "epidemic" ought replace "epizootic".


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#24199 - 03/24/01 12:08 PM Re: re sense shifts
inselpeter Offline
Pooh-Bah

Registered: 03/14/01
Posts: 2379
Loc: New York City
Thanks, I will do that.

Meantime, one more conjecture: the transition tithe to ruin parallels the theo[cratic] extremes of tithe and holocaust, each of the latter is a kind of an offering -- if not to God than to his priests.

Make the Crusade connection (as the Dryden citation from my original post (interrogatory…) suggests), and the shift from tithe to utter destruction becomes a "decimation triangulation."

And still no amor.

Thanks again, IP



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#24200 - 03/24/01 12:21 PM Re: re sense shifts
tsuwm Online   confused
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Registered: 04/03/00
Posts: 10521
Loc: this too shall pass
re: amor et roma

I think you've romed far afield; the ultimate source for amo(u)r is ama-re to love, I believe.


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