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[des-uh-meyt] /ˈdɛs əˌmeɪt/
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.
Origin of decimate
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
Related forms
decimation, noun
decimator, noun
Can be confused
decimal, decimate, destroy (see usage note at the current entry; see synonym study at destroy)
Usage note
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. 2015.
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Examples from the web for decimate
  • 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.
  • He encounters a world in flux, where human colonization threatens to decimate the jungle and its countless natural resources.
  • Alzheimer's can take 10 years or longer to decimate the brain.
  • There were worries that the new visa requirements would decimate our postgraduate numbers.
  • Surely something better will come along to decimate the status quo.
  • If it continues much longer, it will decimate the local and state economy.
  • Plants may harbor pests that could decimate whole crops.
British Dictionary definitions for decimate


verb (transitive)
to destroy or kill a large proportion of: a plague decimated the population
(esp in the ancient Roman army) to kill every tenth man of (a mutinous section)
Derived Forms
decimation, noun
decimator, noun
Usage note
One talks about the whole of something being decimated, not a part: disease decimated the population, not disease decimated most of the population
Word Origin
C17: from Latin decimāre, from decimus tenth, from decem ten
Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 2012 Digital Edition
© William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd. 1979, 1986 © HarperCollins
Publishers 1998, 2000, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009, 2012
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Word Origin and History for decimate

c.1600, in reference to the practice of punishing mutinous military units by capital execution of one in every 10, by lot; from Latin decimatus, past participle of decimare (see decimation). Killing one in ten, chosen by lots, from a rebellious city or a mutinous army was a common punishment in classical times. The word has been used (incorrectly, to the irritation of pedants) since 1660s for "destroy a large portion of." Related: Decimated; decimating.

Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper
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