Sunday, April 19, 2015

Grammar Commando: Decimated

The Grammar Commando has been quiet for a while, but it doesn't mean she's gone away. Just been distracted.

Also, the Grammar Commando is aware that words change meaning over time. This is understandable.

Sometimes, though, it gets taken too far.

For example, the word "decimated." This comes from the Roman practice of disciplining recalcitrant regiments by killing every tenth man. As a disciplinary measure, a pretty stiff one. It seems to have worked out for the Romans, though.

 Using it to describe, say, an all but empty city in a post-apocalyptic setting makes no sense. If only a tenth of the population was killed, you could probably even keep the lights on and the gas stations working. And it's not like the root "decem" is all that obscure. I mean, if you made it through fifth grade you should have some acquaintance with decimals, and possibly even have gained some idea about the month of December.

So, if your disaster has wiped out roughly one in ten people, then it decimated the population. If it wiped out practically everyone, use a different word. Obliterated might work.


Uglemor said...

Dear Queen of Carrots. Very first thing I want to say is:"Thanks for this wonderful blog!" I am like you a compulsory reader, and your blog has kept me alive during a stressful and rainy time in the Owlery. Now I have read all - or almost all - your posts and skimmed the very long, legal ones, as the American legal system is so different from ours as to make it almost illegible to me.
MotherOwl (that's me) is also a member of the Grammar Commando, and although I know I have written almost the same comment somewhere in your blog archives, I feel the need to repeat, as QOC, you're a repeat offender.
In this post you again write: "I have been absent for awhile". The correct English is "I have been absent for a while" or "I have been absent awhile" as awhile cannot follow a preposition.
And if I have made any mistakes, I ask for your clemency, being Danish, and not a native speaker at all. Of course I ran a spell check, but it did not know the word "blog" which made me doubt its accuracy.

Diary of an Autodidact said...

Also a pet peeve of mine. For reference, the plague wiped out a third of the population of Europe. While certain areas were hit harder, and basic infrastructure crumbled - particularly in cities - somehow the agricultural backbone of the economy muddled on...

Queen of Carrots said...

MotherOwl, you have caught this Grammar Commando out. You're quite right, "a while" is a noun phrase that can follow a preposition, "awhile" is an adverb that can't. Careless of me.