< 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, noundecimator, noun
Can be confused
, 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
) nearly 80 percent of the cattle.