1 : to select by lot and kill every tenth man of
2 : to exact a tax of 10 percent from
3 a : to reduce drastically especially in number
b : to cause great destruction or harm to
Budget cuts have decimated public services in many towns and cities throughout the state.
"Disease, habitat destruction and overharvesting have already decimated the oyster population in the Chesapeake Bay." - From an article in The Virginian-Pilot (Norfolk, Virginia), April 10, 2013
Did You Know?
The connection between "decimate" and the number ten harks back to a brutal practice of the army of ancient Rome. A unit that was guilty of a severe crime (such as mutiny) was punished by selecting and executing one-tenth of its soldiers, thereby scaring the remaining nine-tenths into obedience. It's no surprise that the word for this practice came from Latin "decem," meaning "ten." From this root we also get our word "decimal" and the name of the month of December, originally the tenth month of the calendar before the second king of Rome decided to add January and February. In its extended uses "decimate" strayed from its "tenth" meaning and nowadays refers to the act of destroying or hurting something in great numbers.
Test Your Memory
What is the meaning of "fuliginous," our Word of the Day from March 29? The answer is …