Decimated? Devastated? Or Just Dumbfounded?

meaning of decimated or devastated

You might be in the minority. Those who understand the meaning of ‘decimated’. Here’s a beauty! This came from an account of a road accident: ‘… the impact fully decimated half the car’. Your challenge is to explain the damage to the car.

Consider this:

A company of 100 men marched into battle. The fighting was fierce and the company was decimated. How many men remained?

Answer: 90. Ten were killed.

Yes, ‘decimated’ means reduced by one-tenth. It is, admittedly, an ancient term from the Latin. The Romans used decimation as a punishment; they would take and kill one in every ten men in a village or town, as a way of subduing or intimidating the rest.

It’s still a useful term to use when talking about the effects of disease, for example, on a population – as in, ‘the flu decimated the population of the area’.

Unfortunately, people usually misuse the word – often as a synonym for ‘devastated’ or ‘annihilated’.

In the fourteenth century, the Black Death killed up to 60% of some populations in Europe. That’s devastation! By contrast, ‘decimation’ would have seen a death toll of 10%. Big difference. Huge!

Back to the car….

‘… the impact fully decimated half the car’ is something of a nonsense.

  • ‘Destroyed’, or damaged would be more accurate words.
  • ‘Decimated’ only really works with ‘countables’ – numbers of cars – not one, and certainly not half a car.
  • ‘Fully decimated’ is ridiculous; either it was, or it wasn’t.

Even if you ignore all that, and try to answer my original question, you might say: ‘The impact (fully) obliterated one-tenth of half the car. My maths makes that one twentieth. Maybe a bumper bar and a bit more? Who knows?

Not too much devastation really.

Read more about Countables

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