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decimate (DES-i-mayt) verb tr.

1. To destroy a large number of (a group).

2. To kill every tenth person.

[From Latin decimatus, past participle of decimare, from decimus (tenth), from decem (ten). Decimation -- killing one out of every ten soldiers -- was the favorite method of punishing mutinous legions in the ancient Roman army. Today the word has evolved to mean large-scale damage where a major proportion is annihilated.]

"Workers are collecting the few scraps of uniforms -- in one case, a nearly complete military hat -- to be analyzed for parasites. DNA analysis may help resolve whether a strain of typhus borne by lice helped decimate the troops."
Michael Wines, Baltic Soil Yields Evidence of a Bitter End to Napoleon's Army, The New York Times, Sep 14, 2002.

"Winter grain crops across the state have been decimated by the conditions, with little relief expected and hopes now pinned on summer crops."
Mark Scala, Never Rains But it Sprinkles - Light Showers Can't Break Drought's Grip, The Daily Telegraph (Sydney, Australia), Sep 7, 2002.

This week's theme: words that have changed meaning with time.


In a perfect union the man and woman are like a strung bow. Who is to say whether the string bends the bow, or the bow tightens the string? -Cyril Connolly, critic and editor (1903-1974)

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