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Decimate -- To destroy into parts 1/10th the size of the original.

Decibels (dB) -- 1/10th of a Bell, named after the inventor of the telephone, Graham Bell (founder of Bell Labs)

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Do you have a citation for that usage of decimate? I've always used it as reducing by 1/10, not a division operation.

The origin was in a punishment used againt an erring Roman legion, in which one man in ten was pulled out of the ranks and killed.

Right, that's the actual origin. I wanted to know where Tom's "To destroy into parts 1/10th the size of the original" came from. That's not decimating, AFAIK.

I hate to say "that's what someone told me" but it's true. I should have looked it up.

The OED has a very old and obscure usage defined as:

To divide into tenths, divide decimally.

The only quote they have is from 1749. The much more common usage these days is to destroy a large portion of something, with the original usage being reduction by 1/10 either by death or removal.

There's also a use from the 17th and 18th centuries that seems to have died out that means to exact a tax of 1/10.

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