Posted by: episystechpubs | January 5, 2016

Editor’s Corner:

Today’s item didn’t make it into the month of December, where it would’ve been more fitting since we’re talking about deci and deka. Better late than never, though!

The following etymologies (from Words of a Feather: A Humorous Puzzlement of Etymological Pairs, by Murray Suid) revolve around decimal and decimate.

Decimate is a classic example of “semantic inflation.” Just like people, words can exaggerate.

The story begins with the Latin prefix deci-, “ten.” Deci- and its Greek relative deka spawned a variety of words such as decade, Decalogue (the Ten Commandments), and decimal, a fraction with an implied denominator of ten. All cut and dried meanings.

Decimate comes from the Latin decem, “ten,” and –atus, a suffix denoting an action, hence “taking of one-tenth.” The Romans used the word in two ways. First, it referred to imposing a tax of 10 percent, comparable to the meaning of the English word tithe. Second, it referred to the Roman army’s method of punishing an offending group—citizens or soldiers00by killing one in ten via a lottery. This too was a very specific operation.

However, as the word began to be applied to loss of life from other causes, such as fires, floods, famine, and plagues, it came to mean not merely a loss of one tenth, but something closer to annihilation.

Happy January!

Kara Church

Technical Editor, Advisory

619-542-6773 | Ext: 766773

Symitar Documentation Services

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