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
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 the selection and execution of 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 words decimal and decade, as well as December, so named because it was originally the tenth month of the calendar before the addition of January and February. In its extended uses, decimate strayed from its "tenth" meaning and nowadays refers to the act of destroying or damaging a great quantity or large part of something.
Budget cuts have decimated public services in many towns and cities throughout the state.
"We must do everything we can to eliminate the diseases that have potential to decimate our population if we do not take action." — Kacie L. Pauls, The Kansas City (Missouri) Star, 22 Mar. 2018
Test Your Vocabulary with M-W Quizzes
Word Family Quiz
Fill in the blanks to complete a verb derived from Latin decem ("ten") that means "to intersect or cross": d _ _ u _ s _ te.VIEW THE ANSWER
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