dec·​i·​mate | \ ˈde-sə-ˌmāt How to pronounce decimate (audio) \
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 How to pronounce decimation (audio) \ 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.
Recent Examples on the Web The defense secretary said Moscow used AI to help decimate the Ukrainian military and that China vowed to become a world leader by 2030. Abraham Mahshie, Washington Examiner, "‘We must stay ahead’: Esper warns of China and Russia using AI in battlespace," 10 Sep. 2020 But a combination of undiversification and bad luck can decimate a portfolio and retirement prospects. Meir Statman, WSJ, "Investors Still Believe They Can Beat the Stock Market," 8 Sep. 2020 The ongoing pandemic has continued to decimate the global concert industry, leaving Ohio music clubs in a state of limbo. Troy L. Smith, cleveland, "Live Nation extends furloughs for 76 employees at House of Blues Cleveland," 3 Sep. 2020 Those figures decimate those of Tesla’s Model S, which claims 503 horsepower and 348 miles in its highest variants. Hannah Elliott,, "How Lucid Motors Plans to Spin Tesla-Killing Strategy Out of Air," 1 Sep. 2020 Receiving a $10,000 fine would decimate a business, several owners said. Grace Wong,, "‘It feels like we’re blocked at every turn’: With threats of $10,000 fines for COVID-19 violations, some restaurants say the punishment doesn’t fit the crime," 31 Aug. 2020 So for many big conference schools, the cancellation of a football season can decimate an athletic department’s budget, dragging down other sports in its wake. David Ridpath, The Conversation, "Is NCAA football too big to fail?," 21 Aug. 2020 Perfect can be the enemy of the good, and good repeated over time is enough to decimate the virus. Andy Larsen, The Salt Lake Tribune, "Coronavirus testing: How it works, why Utah’s tests are down, and what’s coming next?," 9 Aug. 2020 Not only did the song decimate the Billboard charts and go six-times platinum. cleveland, "100 greatest Rock and Roll Hall of Fame songs of the 1980s," 12 Aug. 2020

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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Time Traveler for decimate

Time Traveler

The first known use of decimate was in 1660

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Statistics for decimate

Last Updated

23 Sep 2020

Cite this Entry

“Decimate.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 24 Sep. 2020.

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More Definitions for decimate


How to pronounce decimate (audio)

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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