improper-but-no-longer-incorrect word usage alert!

Es­ti­mated reading time is 1 minute.

IMPROPER-BUT-NO-LONGER-INCORRECT word usage alert: ac­cording to Merriam-Webster On­line, the word dec­imal as an ad­jec­tive means (in order) “num­bered or pro­ceeding by tens; or based on the number 10; es­pe­cially ex­pressed in or uti­lizing a dec­imal system es­pe­cially with a dec­imal point; or sub­di­vided into 10th or 100th units.” As a noun, dec­imal means al­most the same: “any real number ex­pressed in base 10.”

Now, the Word Alert here ain’t for dec­imal—it’s for dec­i­mate, which means “to se­lect by lot and kill every tenth man of.” A sec­ondary de­f­i­n­i­tion is far less likely to be found in modern usage: “to exact a tax of 10 per­cent from.”

So, used prop­erly, “to dec­i­mate something/anything” means to re­move or elim­i­nate every tenth item or thing in that something/anything. More loosely, but still prop­erly, it means to elim­i­nate or re­move any one-tenth of that something/anything.

The im­proper and once in­cor­rect meaning—“to re­duce dras­ti­cally, es­pe­cially in number”—is now cor­rect: the de­f­i­n­i­tion I just used is the third listed by Merriam-Webster. So, once again, ig­no­rance and misuse of the lan­guage tri­umphs over knowl­edge aware­ness correctness.

For those of us “stick­lers” who still be­lieve in pre­scrip­tive dic­tio­naries, it re­mains nonethe­less quite im­proper when used thusly!

I bring this to your at­ten­tion be­cause I see dec­i­mate used so fre­quently these days. It has be­come quite pop­ular with the past few gen­er­a­tions of writers. I mean, like, man, I see it every­where—and al­ways used im­prop­erly. In fact, I’m not cer­tain that I have seen it used prop­erly in decades (an­other word with dec. (Oh, damn! Now I’m making the ar­gu­ment for its in­cor­rect usage as the ‘new’ cor­rect usage!). 

PS: Did you know that nonethe­less (a word that I pos­i­tively use al­most to ex­cess) and nev­er­the­less (a word that I al­most never use) and notwith­standing (does anyone use that word in ac­tual con­ver­sa­tion any­more?) are all synonyms?

I didn’t! Hell’s Belles!! I didn’t even know that notwith­standing was a word!!!


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