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Borrowed from Latin decimātiō, a punishment where every 10th man in a unit would be stoned to death by the men who were spared. Used by the Romans to keep order in their military. Compare septimation and vicesimation.



decimation (plural decimations)

  1. (strictly) The killing or punishment of every tenth person, usually by lot.
  2. (generally) The killing or destruction of any large portion of a population.
    • 1702: Cotton Mather, Magnalia Christi Americana - And the whole army had cause to enquire into their own rebellions, when they saw the Lord of Hosts, with a dreadful decimation, taking off so many of our brethren by the worst of executioners.
  3. A tithe or the act of tithing.
  4. (mathematics) The creation of a new sequence comprising only every nth element of a source sequence.
  5. (telecommunications) A digital signal-processing technique for reducing the number of samples in a discrete-time signal.


  • (the act of killing or punishing each tenth person): tithing
  • (the payment of a tenth to the clergy): See tithe

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  • The Century Dictionary, The Century Co., New York, 1914