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Borrowed from Latin decimāre (to take or offer a tenth part), from decimus (tenth).[1] As a noun, via Latin decimatus (tithing area; tithing rights).[2]



decimate (third-person singular simple present decimates, present participle decimating, simple past and past participle decimated)

  1. (archaic) To kill one-tenth of a group, (historical, specifically) as a military punishment in the Roman army selected by lot, usually carried out by the surviving soldiers.
    • c. 1650, Jeremy Taylor, Vol. I:
      God sometimes decimates or tithes delinquent persons, and they died for a common crime, according as God hath cast their lot in the decrees of predestination.
    • 1989, Basil Davidson, "The Ancient World and Africa" in Egypt Revisited, p. 49:
      Said to have been martyred as a Christian legionary commander of late Roman times for having refused an imperial order to kill one in ten (that is, decimate in the Roman meaning of the word) of the soldiers of another legion which had gone into revolt...
    • 1998, Adrian Goldsworthy, The Roman Army at War, p. 263:
      ...where Caesar threatened to disband Legio X after a mutiny. The men begged him to decimate them instead, and Caesar relented in the same way that Titus refrained from executing this cavalryman after his comrades’ appeal.
    • 2007, Russell T. Davies, Doctor Who, "The Sound of Drums":
      Shall we decimate them? That sounds good, nice word. Remove one-tenth of the population!
  2. To destroy or remove one-tenth of anything.
    • 1840, P.J. Proudhon, What is Property?, p. 164:
      ...there will be eight hundred and ten laborers producing as nine hundred, while, to accomplish their purpose, they would have to produce as one thousand... Here, then, we have a society which is continually decimating itself...
  3. (loosely) To devastate: to reduce or destroy significantly but not completely.
    • p. 1856, James Froude, History of England from the fall of Wolsey to the death of Elizabeth:
      [England] had decimated itself for a question which involved no principle, and led to no result.
    • 1996, Star Trek: Voyager (TV series), Flashback (episode)
      Um, some sort of power overload. I'm afraid it decimated your breakfast.
    • 2001, Otis C. Maloy, Timothy D. Murray, et. al., "Encyclopedia of Plant Pathology", vol. 1, p. 379:
      They can be devastating to certain plants if left uncontrolled: a downy mildew of grapes decimated European vineyards during the nineteenth century.
    • 2017 July 23, Brandon Nowalk, “The great game begins with a bang on Game Of Thrones (newbies)”, in The Onion AV Club[1]:
      What this attack represents is more powerful than the attack sequence itself, which is a double-edged sword, but let’s start with the positive. If what we see is any indication, Euron has decimated Yara’s fleet and cut it off before it was able to fetch the Dornish army.
  4. (obsolete) To exact a tithe or other 10% tax
    • 1669, John Dryden, "The Wild Gallant":
      I have heard you are as poor as a decimated Cavalier [referring to Cromwell's ten per cent. income-tax on Cavaliers], and had not one foot of land in all the world.
    • 1819, John Lingard, History of England, p. 352:
      In addition, an ordinance was published that “all who had ever borne arms for the king, or declared themselves to be of the royal party, should be decimated, that is, pay a tenth part of all the estate which they had left, to support the charge which the commonwealth was put to...
  5. (obsolete, rare) To tithe: to pay a 10% tax.
  6. (obsolete) To decimalize: to divide into tenths, hundredths etc.
  7. (proscribed) To reduce to one-tenth: to destroy or remove nine-tenths of anything.
    • 1998, H. Wayne House, ed., Israel, the Land and the People, p. 63:
      In this dramatic picture, the nation is literally decimated, and even the tenth which remains is subjected to a further destruction.
    • 2003, Susan S. Hunter, Black Death, p. 58:
      African slaves were needed to replace Native American populations that had been decimated (literally reduced to one-tenth their size) by European conquest.
    • 2005, Wilma A. Dunaway, "Put in Master’s Pocket" in Appalachians and Race, p. 116:
      In the New World, European colonists initially enslaved Native Americans, decimating the indigenous populations to one-tenth of their original sizes.
  8. (computer graphics) To replace a high-resolution model with another of lower but acceptable quality.
    • 1999, Mihalisin & al., "Visualizing Multivariate Functions, Data and Distributions" in Readings in Information Visualization: Using Vision to Think, p. 122:
      A decimate tool allows us to obtain a more coarse-grained view of the data over the full n-dimensional space.
    • 2001, Inside 3Ds Max 4, p. 56:
      However, many times it is more practical to decimate existing high-res models because of time, money or manpower issues.
    • 2004, Geremy Heitz & al., "Automatic Generation of Shape Models using Nonrigid Registration with a Single Segmented Template Mesh" in Vision Modeling and Visualization 2004, p. 74:
      Given this initial fine mesh, we smooth and decimate it to a desired mesh resolution.

Usage notes[edit]

Senses of decimate other than "to reduce by one in ten" are occasionally proscribed but "to devastate" has now become a more common usage.[1][3] The sense "to reduce to one in ten" is etymologically unsound and omitted by the OED but increasingly common.


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The translations below need to be checked and inserted above into the appropriate translation tables, removing any numbers. Numbers do not necessarily match those in definitions. See instructions at Wiktionary:Entry layout § Translations.


decimate (plural decimates)

  1. (obsolete) A tithe or other 10% tax or payment.
  2. (obsolete) A tenth of something.
  3. (obsolete) A set of ten items.


  1. 1.0 1.1 Oxford English Dictionary, 3rd ed. "decimate, v." Oxford University Press (Oxford), 2015.
  2. ^ Oxford English Dictionary, 3rd ed. "† decimate, n." Oxford University Press (Oxford), 2015.
  3. ^ Cambridge Guide to English Usage, p. 144.





  1. inflection of decimare:
    1. second-person plural present indicative
    2. second-person plural imperative
  2. feminine plural of decimato





  1. second-person plural present active imperative of decimō