dec·i·mate | \ ˈde-sə-ˌmāt \
decimated; decimating

Definition of decimate 

transitive verb

1 : to select by lot and kill every tenth man of decimate a regiment

2 : to exact a tax of 10 percent from poor as a decimated Cavalier —John Dryden

3a : to reduce drastically especially in number cholera decimated the population Kamieniecki's return comes at a crucial time for a pitching staff that has been decimated by injuries. —Jason Diamos

b : to cause great destruction or harm to firebombs decimated the city an industry decimated by recession

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Other words from decimate

decimation \ˌde-sə-ˈmā-shən \ noun

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.

Examples of decimate in a Sentence

This kind of moth is responsible for decimating thousands of trees in our town. Budget cuts have decimated public services in small towns. Alexander’s ego killed more of his men in a needless trek through the Gedrosian Desert than Darius III ever did on the battlefield. That disaster and the dirty fighting in Bactria merit almost no screen time. Also omitted is Alexander's introduction to the Western world of decimation, crucifixion, and other phenomena. —“Gay Old Times?” P. 40, Victor Davis Hanson, NATIONAL REVIEW Vol. LVI No. 24, December 27, 2004 Resistance attacks on German forces...often compromised a second element of Resistance operations—intelligence gathering—by focusing attention on Resistance networks and invariably leading to their decimation. —“The Myth of The French ... ” P. 99, Douglas Porch, MHQ Vol. 10 No. 2, Winter 1998 Gay men in whom AIDS was diagnosed in the early years, he asserts, were not being truthful if they denied drug use. More recently, he believes, the decimation of their ranks is exacerbated by treatment with AZT (zidovudine). Mr. Duesberg feels that AZT is so toxic it should be banned by the Food and Drug Administration. —“The Unbeliever” P. 8, June E. Osborn, THE NEW YORK TIMES BOOK REVIEW, April 7, 1996 In the 1600s, four or five times more African slaves arrived than in the previous century. One reason was the decimation of the American Indian population. —“West Africa, the Atlantic ...” P. 13, AFRICAN AMERICANS AND CIVIL RIGHTS, Michael L. Levine, Oryx Press 973.049 L57a 1996
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Recent Examples on the Web

Now, other companies in the parts industry were decimated or destroyed by those jobs’ movement overseas. Ed Wallace, star-telegram, "Getting Mileage Out of Jobs," 26 May 2018 Although the front end of the Model S was decimated, the driver sustained only a broken foot. Marco Della Cava, USA TODAY, "NHTSA looking into Tesla crash in Utah," 16 May 2018 Ron Radu, of the online plant shop Léon & George, said that the Florida hurricane last year particularly decimated the fiddle-leaf-fig trend. Sulagna Misra, Vanities, "“Plant People Are Rarely Bullies”: The Leafy, Zen Corner of the Internet That Is Plant Instagram," 1 June 2018 The state’s $1 billion-a-year prison system has been dogged by funding problems even before a two-year budget stalemate that ended last summer decimated it and many other state services. John O'connor, The Seattle Times, "Illinois prison agency might appeal mental-health ruling," 28 May 2018 Never-ending layoffs, firings and closings left religion among the most decimated of the specialty beats. Julia Duin, WSJ, "It’s Hard to Find God on the Front Page," 3 May 2018 As inflation decimates purchasing power, the bolivar is trading at 230,338 to the dollar on the black market, according to the data-tracking site Venezuela Econ — a 98 percent devaluation from a year ago. Jim Wyss, miamiherald, "Venezuela scrambles amid economic collapse - and comes up with a crypto coin | Miami Herald," 21 Feb. 2018 The Trinitarios organization in the Bronx had been decimated by federal takedowns in 2011 and 2012, and its numbers and organizing trends are tracked closely by the police. New York Times, "Two More Suspects Arrested in Slaying of Lesandro Guzman-Feliz, Bronx Teenager," 4 July 2018 Despite being a first-time political candidate, Jealous dominated a crowded fight for the Democratic nomination, decimating a wide range of political veterans including a former adviser to Hillary Clinton and a Maryland state senator. Li Zhou, Vox, "Maryland could elect its first African-American governor this fall," 27 June 2018

These example sentences are selected automatically from various online news sources to reflect current usage of the word 'decimate.' Views expressed in the examples do not represent the opinion of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback.

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First Known Use of decimate

1660, in the meaning defined at sense 1

History and Etymology for decimate

Latin decimatus, past participle of decimare, from decimus tenth, from decem ten

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Last Updated

18 Sep 2018

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Time Traveler for decimate

The first known use of decimate was in 1660

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More Definitions for decimate



English Language Learners Definition of decimate

: to destroy a large number of (plants, animals, people, etc.)

: to severely damage or destroy a large part of (something)


dec·i·mate | \ ˈde-sə-ˌmāt \
decimated; decimating

Kids Definition of decimate

1 : to destroy a large number of The insects decimated thousands of trees.

2 : to severely damage or destroy a large part of

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