The Words of the Week - June 7

Dictionary lookups from World War II, the justice system, and Europe


Decimate spiked in lookups after President Biden used it in an interview with Time, and the magazine fact-checked his use of the word.

What Biden Said: “The Russian military has been decimated. You don’t write about that. It’s been freaking decimated.” The Facts: This is a fair assessment, according to a Reuters report on a declassified U.S. intelligence assessment provided to Congress. The intelligence determined that Russia had 360,000 active military personnel when it invaded Ukraine in February of 2022. By December of last year, 315,000 Russian troops had been either killed or injured in the war—a reduction in troop strength by 87%.
Time, 4 June 2024

When used to refer to a specific number of people killed (or a specific portion of something damaged) the word will typically indicate that one-tenth (not nine-tenths) has been killed or rendered inoperative; these meanings grew out of the word's origins as a way of describing a Roman military punishment, in which one of every ten soldiers was killed. However, the word is also widely used in a non-specific manner, with meanings such as “to reduce drastically especially in number,” or “to cause great destruction or harm to.”

These non-specific senses of decimate are not wrong, and if you are one of those people who insists that the word must retain its Roman military meaning of ‘kill one of every ten people’ we must inform you that you are doing yourself no favors, and this is probably the reason why no one wants to sit next to you at dinner parties.


D-Day also saw a marked increase in lookups, as it does at the beginning of June each year.

Dwindling number of D-Day veterans mark anniversary with plea to recall WWII lessons in today’s wars
— (headline) AP News, 6 June 2024

We define D-Day as “June 6, 1944, on which Allied forces began the invasion of France in World War II.” The word may also refer more generally to “a day set for launching an operation.” The initial D in D-Day (which is also occasionally written as D-day) is an abbreviation itself of the word day. This convention is found in other military terminology, such as H-hour (“the hour set for launching a specific tactical operation”), in which the initial H is an abbreviation of the word hour.


Dox saw much higher lookups than usual, after the family of Donald Trump’s former lawyer was subjected to this.

Michael Cohen's family doxxed after Trump guilty verdict in porn star hush money case
— (headline) NBC News, 3 June 2024

Dox is defined as “to publicly identify or publish private information about someone especially as a form of punishment or revenge.” The word may be spelled with either a single X or two, in all its forms (dox/doxxdoxes/doxxesdoxed/doxxeddoxing/doxxing). Dox initially came into use as a respelling of docs, itself a shortened form of the word documents. Earlier terms for the same act include dropping docs and doc-dropping.


Epoch also spiked in lookups, after the chief financial officer of a newspaper with this word in its title was charged with money laundering.

A top executive for Epoch Times, a conservative multinational media company, has been arrested and charged in a transnational scheme to launder at least $67 million in illicit funds to benefit himself and the company, the U.S. Attorney's Office announced Monday.
— Thao Nguyen, USA Today, 4 Jun. 2024

Epoch has a number of meanings, including “a memorable event or date,” “an event or a time marked by an event that begins a new period or development,” and “an instant of time or a date selected as a point of reference (as in astronomy).” The word comes from the Greek epochē, meaning “cessation” or "fixed point.” 

Words Worth Knowing: ‘Throttlebottom’

Our word worth knowing this week is Throttlebottom: “an innocuously inept and futile person in public office.” Please note that this term is presented for descriptive purposes (and for the amusement of our readers), and does not reflect any sentiment on our part. The word comes from the name of a character (Alexander Throttlebottom) in the musical comedy “Of Thee I Sing” (1931), by George S. Kaufman.