verb (used with object), decimated, decimating.
to destroy a great number or proportion of: The population was decimated by a plague.
to select by lot and kill every tenth person of.
Obsolete. to take a tenth of or from.

1590–1600; < Latin decimātus, past participle of decimāre to punish every tenth man chosen by lot, verbal derivative of decimus tenth, derivative of decem ten; see -ate1

decimation, noun
decimator, noun

decimal, decimate, destroy (see usage note at the current entry)(see synonym study at destroy).

The earliest English sense of decimate is “to select by lot and execute every tenth soldier of (a unit).” The extended sense “destroy a great number or proportion of” developed in the 19th century: Cholera decimated the urban population. Because the etymological sense of one-tenth remains to some extent, decimate is not ordinarily used with exact fractions or percentages: Drought has destroyed (not decimated) nearly 80 percent of the cattle. Unabridged
Based on the Random House Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2014.
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World English Dictionary
decimate (ˈdɛsɪˌmeɪt)
1.  to destroy or kill a large proportion of: a plague decimated the population
2.  (esp in the ancient Roman army) to kill every tenth man of (a mutinous section)
[C17: from Latin decimāre, from decimus tenth, from decem ten]
usage  One talks about the whole of something being decimated, not a part: disease decimated the population, not disease decimated most of the population

Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 10th Edition
2009 © William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd. 1979, 1986 © HarperCollins
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Word Origin & History

c.1600, in reference to the practice of punishing mutinous military units by capital execution of one in every 10, by lot; from L. decimare "to take the tenth," from decimus "tenth" (see decimation). It has been used (incorrectly, to the irritation of pedants) since 1660s
for "destroy a large portion of." Related: Decimated (c.1600); decimating (1660s).
Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper
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Example sentences
It is possible that Polynesian rats, arriving with human settlers, may have
  eaten enough seeds to help to decimate the trees.
The fawns decimated my rose bushes.
In a footnote of his 152-page ruling, he discounted fears that invalidating
  such patents would decimate the industry.
They did not dominate, or decimate, or elicit fear across the league.
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