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French and Spanish losses at Trafalgar

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210581.  Mon Sep 17, 2007 3:29 pm Reply with quote

The esteemed Book reports (p.46) that at the end of the battle of Trafalgar the French and Spanish fleets had been "decimated". Aha! you say - surely they lost more ships than one in ten! Indeed they did. I wonder if Lloyd and Mitchinson left this bijou solecismette in the book to see if anybody would pick it up?

210590.  Mon Sep 17, 2007 3:53 pm Reply with quote

Although the origin of the term "decimate" was to execute one in very ten of a group of people chosen by lot, now it (also) means just to destroy or otherwise reduce a large number.

210610.  Mon Sep 17, 2007 5:50 pm Reply with quote

Although in this case "decimate" doesn't seem too far out even if you define it according to etymology rather than usage; the Franco-Spanish fleet had 41 ships, of which only 6 were sunk in the battle (ie 14.6%, though 4 others went down in the subsequent storm - which must have seemed particularly harsh to their crews).

210627.  Tue Sep 18, 2007 2:27 am Reply with quote

Shouldn't we make an effort to defend the old, precise and quite interesting sense of the word "decimate"? After all, there are plenty of other words that already mean "destroy".

210653.  Tue Sep 18, 2007 3:59 am Reply with quote

I think it's probably a bit late for that (and I'm not sure how often I need a word for "destroying one in ten"; poor old decimate wouldn't get out nearly as much). In any case, if you're going to be really traditionalist about it, you ought to restrict its meaning not only to destroying one in ten, but to executing one legionary in ten, and then the unfortunate word would hardly see the light of day at all.


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