-verb (used with object), -mat⋅ed, -mat⋅ing.
1. to destroy a great number or proportion of: The population was decimated by a plague.
2. to select by lot and kill every tenth person of.
3. Obsolete. to take a tenth of or from.
I’ve heard a lot of talk around Olympia and throughout the rest of the state about how proposed budget cuts are going to “decimate” crucial state services.
Huh. On the one hand, that’s an incorrect use of the word.
“Decimate,” in the modern sense of the word—referring to destroying a nonspecific but great proportion of—really only applies to the killing of people. Of course, one could apply it to any object in the more technical and archaic form of the word, but in that sense, “decimation” only means to reduce by 10-percent, whereas in reality many state services will be cut by much more than that.
But on the other hand, “decimation” is perhaps the perfect word to describe our impending budget cuts, at least in terms of its Latin origin:
Decimation (Latin: decimatio; decem = “ten”) was a form of military discipline used by officers in the Roman Army to punish mutinous or cowardly soldiers. The word decimation is derived from Latin meaning “removal of a tenth.”
A cohort selected for punishment by decimation was divided into groups of ten; each group drew lots (Sortition), and the soldier on whom the lot fell was executed by his nine comrades, often by stoning or clubbing. The remaining soldiers were given rations of barley instead of wheat and forced to sleep outside of the Roman encampment.
Later today the new revenue forecast will be released, and the budget gap is only expected to widen. Unless they also consider the revenue side of the equation, legislators will soon embark in earnest on the process of decimation: determining who gets stoned to death and who merely loses their food and their tent.