Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Back to the Point

Now I remember the point I was trying to make, proving that misusing word is universal. And also proving how bad my obsessive-compulsive disorder has become. I may have mentioned before I choose to focus my anger on small things. You wanna know the one that really irks me when people misuse it?

Decimate.

People are always using it when they mean devastated, annihilated, almost wiped out. You know where it comes from? The Roman imperial army organised everything in multiples of ten. You know what decimated literally means? It means the loss of one in ten of your forces.

Ten per cent.

Not ninety per cent, not three quarters, not even half. One in ten. Why do I hear the Foo Fighters in my head at the moment?. Anyway, so when I hear a newsreader say “The tsunami decimated the coastal villages,” I want them to clarify:

“Do you mean ten per cent of the buildings were destroyed?”

“Oh no, virtually all of them.”

“Oh, so not decimated, more like devastated or wiped out. But not decimated because that would mean only one in ten.” (I often have conversations with my TV.)

“Yes, but everybody knows what decimated means...”

Well, no. Apparently they don’t, least of all you. That’s my bloody point!

What the hell is wrong with you people?

10 comments:

Zurry said...

Ohh... good word!

Evi said...

So...I hate to be meany and try anger you even more (is that possible?) ...but are you planning on coming up with a new topic to be angry about? Your blog title suggests that you would have something new 365 days of the year of which to be angry. You are beginning to ...decimate that goal through redundancy.
Teeheehee.(with timid inflection)
I guess I don't hate to be a meany. Your blog is fun!

El Borak said...

No, no, be a meany! That will ensure plenty of anger for the rest of us to enjoy...

Mr Angry said...

Ahhhh, I guess I have been on this topic for a while. I promise to (temporarily) work it out of my system tomorrow. And, strictly speaking, I'm not intending to be angry about a totally different thing every day, just intending to post a different expression of anger every day.

Don't worry, I have my next target all lined up. (hint: it involves hippies)

Evi said...

I just said you were 'decimating that goal'... 10% redundancy is pretty good!

pigeon weather said...

this has got to be a case of "the spirit of the law" versus "the letter of the law", because if the Founding Coiners had intended to be more precise, we would also have words like "ventimate", "trentimate", "quatrimate", and so on. Losing a tenth of your army was probably a pretty big deal way back when ...

Mr Angry said...

No Tom, this is a case of right versus wrong. Today it's intellectual laziness, tomorrow it's kittens nailed to church doors.

Linguistic decay leads inevitably to moral decay. We're all doomed if we don't do something about it.

pigeon weather said...

Well, that brings up another interesting linguistic problem. In America, the term "moral decay" is code reserved for religious zealots. It typically refers to "rejection of God" and/or sex for pleasure. Perhaps the term is different in Australia, or these are the very things you are worried about?

As for me, I have no problem with "moral decay" if these are its meanings.

But, hey, I was only half-joking about "ventimate", etc ... Why do you think those words never were invented? Why only "decimate"? Do you know the origins of this?

Mr Angry said...

Hey Tom,
I'll come clean and stop with the jokes for a minute. I'm totally with you on fools preaching moral decay. That's why I attach "moral decay" to pointless things like grammar. I'm also aware that no matter how much I exaggerate, I'm unlikely to keep up with the loonies you refer to.

So far as decimate vs. ventimate etc. I'm reasonably sure those other words don't exist but who knows. As to why why we remember decimate, to the best of my knowledge this concept was very important to the romans. They were so dominant that a loss of 1 in 10 was actually quite serious.

My memory of high school history was that they were very focused on organising in groups of ten. We all remember a centurion (in charge of 100 troops, or a century) being a commander but there was also the rank decurion, who was in charge of a squad of ten.

I should get my friend Todd onto this, he's mad for it.

pigeon weather said...

I checked in my Webster's - apparently the Romans had a thing where they would select every 10th person by lot, for execution. Presumably these were people they'd conquered and were setting an example.

Which reminds me of an episode from the Peloppenesian War. Athens conquered to country of Lesbos, whose population rebelled, and in return the Athenians debated killing every single male in the country - very much like the recent American army experience in Fallujah, Iraq

Also, the dictionary said that the extended usage of decimate (to mean 'a great number or proportion') goes back to the 19th century, so maybe the moral decay has long roots in this instance :}