back to article El Reg decimates English language

It's official: the English language is going to hell in a handcart and if drastic measures are not taken to halt the destruction of our beloved mother tongue then all of the efforts of Nelsonian Jack tars and Spitfire-borne officer pilots to defend this Scepter'd Isle against the forces of barbarism will have been in vain. …


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  1. Alex
    Black Helicopters

    Good article

    Well put! I mean "put well"? Oh, God...oh, God! They're coming for me!

  2. Chris Collins

    Easy tiger

    The internet, serious business. Not really. Remember that arguing on the internet is like winning the Special Olympics.

  3. Mike Crawshaw

    Greengrocers' Apostrophe's

    Nice reference...

    Spelling, incorrect usage and general grammatical incompetencies do get my goat (and I want it back!), but language is evolving, and those who do not evolve with it will soon be left to the pages of hostorical dictionaries. Or something.

    The golden suit with the winged hat, thanks...!

  4. gizmo23


    At last someone else has noticed that GW can't pronounce nuclear. I thought I was the only one. It gets on my nerves but nobody else I know is bothered by it.

    I recently saw a TV program about a crisis where the Soviets came close to launching missiles because they thought the wargames NATO were conducting at the time were a build-up prior to invasion of Eastern Europe. As you might expect this meant the word "nuclear" was said a lot by the narrator who pronounced it "nyucyular" every time. Had to change channel about half way through because I couldn't stand it.

    Let everyone know! Make sure GWB is aware that he sounds like an idiot *every* time he gets it wrong!

    And don't get me started about apostrophes.

    Flame icon because there's no mushroom cloud.

  5. Anonymous Coward


    'Ignorence' or 'ignorance'?

    This chap seems so learned I was almost inclined to doubt my own spelling ability.

  6. jim parker


    Be that as it may, in your official capacity as language police could you arrange to severely chastise all those who mean nothing but say nothink.

  7. Charlie Clark Silver badge

    "Mind you, a plucky few are still using the word as *God* intended"

    Surely not? Caesar, Cicero or some such!

  8. Simon


    It's interesting that this latest outraged pedant couldn't even check his own spelling - to wit:

    "...with such ignorence at the helm."

    ITYM 'ignorance'. Also, in other instances, 'ignorant'.

    HTH, HAND.

  9. dervheid

    Poor Pedant

    Does he not realise that the English Language has ALWAYS been developing and changing.

    I forsee the opening of a large, metal, food storage recepticle filled with lumbricids for both this subject and the unfortunate (rather crass) comparison by Chris Collins!

  10. Hugh Fiske

    @Chris Collins

    Offensive and patronising at the same time, must've taken some thinking about..

  11. Colin Morris
    Paris Hilton

    Coat, Hat, Gloves, scarf.... Where's the door?

    Who care's about where apostrophe's go. It's all a shamble's anyway!

    Lets continue to decimate the english language, thats my two-penneth anyways (as we used to say in the olden days of proper english like.....)

    Paris probably wouldn't care either!......


  12. Karl Lattimer

    Not too bothered about the meaning however...

    It would be nice if some reg articles had a read through before being posted. Some articles have such bad flow of grammar and countless spelling errors that it makes it difficult to enjoy them.

  13. Nick


    Is he seriously commenting on other people's literacy?

    Cretanism, usuage, predominently... sigh.

  14. Paul A Freshney


    Isn't that a friendly octopus?

  15. Anonymous Coward

    Decimation is all relative anyway

    For example, if 10% of clinical trial subjects died then every effort would be made to reduce this loss and even a reduction to 9% would be considered an achievement.....but if you paid 10p for something out of your £1, not many people (reg hacks excluded) are going to try and hammer the price down to the meaning has not just become obfuscated, but has been given greater and more grandiose impact than that originally intended. In this light, surely then one must exercise even greater control over the word given the ease with which it can be used to overstate losses.

    Pass me the vinyl-coated flasher-mack......

  16. Chris Williams

    Would 'churlish' be the correct term?

    What would I be if I pointed out that, in keeping with the highly variable and generally dire quality of spelling on the Internet -- regional variations are presumably still allowed, so I like to see Americans use 'color' and 'program' (as in TV) and British use 'colour' and 'programme' -- Tony selects a variation on 'ignorant' that to my knowledge cannot be explained by history or any cultural nuance:


    Is that a word?

  17. Anonymous Coward
    Thumb Down

    Tut, tut, tut

    When having a pop at someone else's grammer. Don't ever f**k it up yourself

    "What chance does anyone else onboard have in USA with such ignorence at the helm."

    Me thinks it should read (but then again, I'm crap at English)

    What chance does anyone else onboard have in THE USA with such ignorAnce at the helm?

  18. jolly
    Paris Hilton

    "It's official: the English language is going to hell in a handcart"

    If I go to hell when I die I'd be happy to go in a handcart as it would, presumably, take a very long time to get there. Better that than, say, travelling by luxury jet.

    Paris 'cause she'd definitely choose the jet.

  19. The Other Steve

    F*ck the language Nazis

    Sorry to upset you, you jackbooted protectors of a hallucinatory pseudo-reality, but in fact Language IS forever changing, and it MUST and WILL forever change.

    To decry this process is a foolish position, akin to insisting that sun remain in the sky at a fixed position.

    In fact, if it was a valid point of view, everyone on the planet would speak one language.

    Since this is clearly not the case, and there are significant variations of grammar and vocab even within languages that share the same root, the Romance languages for instance, the argument for prescriptive grammar and vocabulary vs descriptive is a tad foolish.

    It is interesting how many of the language Nazis (that's twice already, so I invoke Godwin's on myself) seem to have little or no knowledge of the phenomenon of language diversification, suggesting that they have, in fact, never even taken a fairly basic course of study in English Language (AFAIK this is still on the A-Level curriculum). Had they done so they would have been exposed to these arguments early on, and it would save them for making tits of themselves all the time.

    The OED bases its definitions on common usage, if it's good enough for them, it's most certainly good enough for you.

    Come on guys, the days of RP, Standard English and everyone on telly wearing evening dress are long behind us, and good riddance to them. There are far more interesting things to be pedantic about. Like the internet not having been designed to survive a nuclear war, or the true progression of windows version numbers :-)

  20. Adam Foxton
    Paris Hilton


    ...someone else annoyed - or at least concerned- with the recent abandonment of rules, guidelines and other such structure in the English language.

    Surely basic punctuation and elecution are still taught at a primary school level, and standards maintained- if not increased- through secondary and tertiary education?

    Perhaps an enforced quality of written and spoken English work (in addition, of course, to a skill with numeracy) could be made a prerequisite of progressing through the years at school? Of course there would be some leeway for different dialects or accents in day-to-day work, but assessment and progression criteria should be based around "proper" English.

    Paris since she's good at getting her tongue around things...

    I mean complicated words and phrases, guttermind!

  21. Marc Savage

    I hate people like this

    The apostrophe is a stupid thing.

    Tell me why I should use don't instead of dont. I say don't instead of do not because its quicker, I want to write it more quickly as well.

  22. Philip Lord

    Sorry ........

    ....... for being pedantic but within the lead item should it not have been "sceptre'd" ? *We* this side of the pond have a preference for words ending in "re".

  23. Jared Earle

    @ Charlie Clark

    Julius Caesar was deified in 42 BC. Does that count?

    Ok, I'll get it. Mine's the red cloak with the combed helmet on top of it. Ave.

  24. Richard Porter
    Gates Horns

    Decimation of the English Language

    I can accept that language evolves, but it's now in a nose dive, spiralling downwards because of plain ignorance. It's not just "decimate" - many other words are abused, such as "Draconian" (Draco would put people to death for the most minor of offences). "Battery" is a collective noun and should never be applied to a single cell. "Aerosol" means a sol in the air, not a pressurised container that produces a coarse spray. That brings us to "pressurised" v "pressured" ... I could go on :)

  25. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Pot, kettle, black

    It seems that this correspondent is only out to cause trouble. On the one hand his very point regards the use of these other meanings. On the other he denies the existence of these very meanings despite the that he himself cites examples of their use. Decimate has long had other less literal meanings attached to it like countless other everyday terms.

    We don't the the language of Chaucer anymore - language changes, and this particular change is not particularly recent. For example, the acceptability of the word "you", when addressing an individual rather than a group is much more recent, and that usage is now dominant to the extent that many are not even aware of the historical use (in the singular, the term was thou).

    Finally, I refuse to take advice on the finer points of the English language from someone who consistently demonstrates their "ignorence" by spelling it that way.

  26. Neil Hoskins

    "...Spitfire-borne officer pilots..."

    Akcherly, that's a myth: most of them were Flight Sergeants.

    (I wonder if we're more at risk from an outbreak of ill-informed pedantry.)

  27. Dave Harris

    @Stu & Adam

    May I draw you attention to your use of the words "grammer" [sic] and "elecution" [sic], respectively, for a moment?


  28. John Ellin


    Everything went to hell as soon as Capt Kirk was first to boldy split an infinitive as none had been split before.

    I just want to round up all those who forget that a preposition is something you never end a sentence with.


  29. adnim



  30. Senor Beavis

    Pedantry it may be, however...

    ... there's no harm in striving for accurate usage of English. Just using UK newspapers as an example, I've observed spelling to be more slapdash since the advent of all-pervasive spell-checkers, mainly because the onus is now on the word processing application rather than the author to proof-read their own content.

    Yes indeed language is evolving and new meanings are ascribed to old words, however the original purpose of good grammar and punctuation was to assist the reader in understanding what was meant by the author. Unfortunately, my overriding impression is that there is less emphasis on grammar and spelling in schools, so kids are less likely to be able to interpret and use them to their benefit.

    I am often embarrassed when I encounter someone whose second language is English and whose use of spelling and grammar is better than a native speaker or writer. My own writing is by no means completely accurate all of the time but at least that's what I'm aiming for. That's not a bad objective, surely?

  31. Anonymous Coward

    Decimate the pedants

    Your correspondent's notes on use of language would have carried far more weight had (s)he been capable of stringing together a sentence that, while observing grammatical and semantic rules, read well.

  32. Anonymous Coward
    Paris Hilton

    "incorrect usage"?

    oh dear, another mention of "incorrect usage".

    there's no "correct usage" - it's just people trying to communicate their ideas. it doesn't matter if they do it less than clearly or even in a way that you were taught was wrong when you were a kid (and if you don't believe me, what about the rules your grandparents were taught? how come everyone defends just the set that they were taught as a kid, as if that precise era is in some way the "right" one? why don't you use "thou" as second person singular, like your predecessors did and a few oop north still do, hey it adds a distinction to the language, surely we shouldn't lose that?)

    the screw-up is that we get taught in our formative years that there are "rules" that are "right", but there absolutely are not such rules. however you speak, you'll be understood (typically by most), but also ridiculed (typically by a few) -- up with which i will not put (yes, i was taught that particular lie). with English insinuating itself into a position as the world's shared language, please lay off the "right and wrong". a couple of hundred years ago "a napron" (as from the French) turned into "an apron". unless you propose returning to this, shut up and let people try to get their ideas over, even if your spelling and grammar succeeds with slightly more of the audience than theirs does.

    and yes, that means if someone says "ignorence" it's you sad smirkers who are the fools. there's no "right spelling", it's just that you were taught that there was. there's the commonest spelling, sure, but that is not the same thing at all.

    (Paris, for the Academie Francaise.)

  33. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    I rather liked the humour value of the Doctor Who "Sound of Drums" episodes where the (John Simm) "Master" character explicitly killed a tenth of the human population to viloently emphasise the classic meaning of decimate.

    However as mass genocide is not a viable option for language pedants, and moaning mails to the reg are in the chocolate tea pot realm of effectiveness then the pedants may as well give up and resign themselves to language being ever changing.

    Alternatively they could just say "ug" and nothing else (or whatever guttural utterance may have been the first human "word") as the farcical extension of language purity would have been to preserve the first one in its pristine one word form.

    Sans icon (purely so Mr. pedant can see a fine example of English usage stealing words from elsewhere)

  34. easyk

    @ By Richard Porter

    >"Battery" is a collective noun and should never be applied to a single cell<

    When exactly was the last time you bought a single cell battery?

  35. Chris Miller


    Of course English (in common with all 'living' languages) is constantly changing, but change is not always an improvement. There are already sufficient synonyms for 'devastate' (I suspect decimate is misused because it sounds vaguely similar) - we should endeavour to retain 'decimate' together with its unique meaning of "to reduce by one tenth" - otherwise, when I use the word correctly, others may misunderstand me.

  36. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    With in

    "The word 'decimated' seems completely irrelevant to anything with in the serpentine article ..."

    So, as a traditionalist, does this go back to Chaucer, or is that not far enough? When was "within" written as two words? It's one word in modern German, so I'm guessing it's been one word in English since before written record, but that's just a guess.

    There are too many obvious errors in this complaint to be accidental. To make a mistake on a basic word that has not changed in ages while complaining about an obscure detail on a word that evolved a new meaning four centuries ago is too much to accept. I think he's trolling for responses like this one. And I just fell for it. Oh well.

  37. AH

    Hate to Bring up History in an Amusing Thread

    Decimation has a literal meaning and an emotive attachment. Those who criticise the use of the word to mean "destruction" are ignoring its emotive power in the historical context it was used.

    Decimation derives from the punishment meted out to a Roman cohort (not a legion). Each group of ten men would draw lots. The loser would then be beaten or stoned to death by his nine comrades. The punishment was rarely administered as the cohort would be fairly useless thereafter: its morale was destroyed. The punishment appears to have been rarely used, only at times of dire emergency "pour encourager les autres". The cohort was effectively destroyed by the "decimation".

    The word's use to denote destruction derives from its impact on Roman legionnaries - if they ever performed so badly as to merit decimation, it would be the end for them as career soldiers, even if they survived the decimation itself.

    So it's not just a case of adaption in modern useage: it's always meant the destruction of a "unit" by the infliction of casualties.

  38. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    Someone's already pointed out "scepter'd".

    Also, "has resisted the temptation to the bore the arse off".

  39. Mark

    Learn basic maths as well

    "Good show, although we suspect the inclusion here of "nearly" might not satisfy purists. If the total of job losses is in fact less than anticipated, might we suggest the use of inkhorn neologisms "nonimate" or "octomate"?"

    "Nonimate" suggests 1 in 9 and "Octimate" suggests 1 in 8 - which suggests more employees that the 1 in 10 that would be specified by decimate, not less. Elevimate or twelvimate might be more appropriate.

  40. Geoff Spick

    Olde wurlde

    If the original complainant was going to stick to traditional English, then surely his missive should have started...

    "Good daye to thee merrie gentlemen of thou rogister,"

    and gone downhill from there. With a hey-nonny or two.

    Unless, of course, he accepts and uses the evolution of English after all

  41. Peter Fielden-Weston

    One in ten

    So, when they came to the end of the line of mutinous legionaries, and found only 6 left. Did they have to beat one up a bit; 6/10th to death sort of thing?

  42. dervheid

    @ Richard Porter


    I presume you are referring to the majority of self-contained DC power sources here. If you actually look at the construction of these devices, you will find that each "battery" as we like to call them, is indeed made up of a collection of individual charged cells, connected in series to produce the desired voltage.


    From Greek. aero- "air" (combining form) + solution

    Physical Chemistry. a system of colloidal particles dispersed in a gas; smoke or fog.

    A liquid substance, as a disinfectant or deodorant, sealed in a metal container under pressure with an inert gas or other activating agent and released as a spray or foam through a push-button valve or nozzle.

    Tube (colloquial Scots):

    Someone who should check what he's saying before posting rant on El Reg.

  43. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Derived from idiots...

    Why use American sourced dictionaries to play semantics with the English language? It makes no sense. Why not use Cambridge or Oxford? These still stand in favour of your overall meaning though.

    I do agree with the original message, decimate is only considered "correct" because of people assuming it is correct over time. Sadly these days the dictionaries are full of "offical" meanings derived from idiots.

  44. Ann Garner
    Paris Hilton

    Dictionaries report usage

    See for example, the word "bimonthly" which is reported as meaning both "twice a month" and "every other month," making the word useless. That also means if enough people say "nukular" instead of "nuclear" it will become acceptable and the dictionary will report it as true.

    I teach College Writing and I believe in the validity of shifting meaning. I even teach my students that emoticons are the next horizon of punctuation. But the "language changes" argument is actually a way of disenfranchising students by making it more and more difficult for them to understand the work of past thinkers, since they can't really understand the langauge being used. And in fact, teaching them about structure and rules of something like language actually helps them become more logical in a way that Western society values. Not teaching them proper grammar, syntax and usage materially hurts their ability to think. Trust me, they want to learn how to think, but society is making it difficult.

    If we don't start piling up the sandbags on the shores of langauge, English will erode to the point where no one will be able to get the witty repartee of The Register and its readers. Surely a tragedy?

  45. fergal

    Surely all the words in the english language

    are made up!!.

    or did someone suddenly someday in the past .... etc.. etc..

    i believe it was William shakespeare who just made up half* of the english language in his plays.

    in fact heres a quote "The English language owes a great debt to Shakespeare. He invented over 1700 of our common words by changing nouns into verbs, changing verbs into adjectives, connecting words never before used together, adding prefixes and suffixes, and devising words wholly original"

    from which contains a list of words.

    imagine if someone decided then to disallow these words into common usage!.

    *used as accurately as decimate

  46. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    What is important is..

    that the writer is understood by the reader. I think it fairly unlikely that anyone other than a history teacher is going to use "decimate" in its original sense, and so its common usage is perfectly acceptable.

    On the other hand, use of an apostrophe can change the meaning of the sentence, and using a word which means one thing to say another thing is bound to lead to confusion, when the reader does not know the meaning the writer intended. In everyday speech that isn't a problem, but in the press it rather defeats the point, which is communication with the reader. When drafting documents that might have legal implications, that confusion can have serious effects on the wallet as well.

    It's not about pedantry; it's about ensuring that people understand each other. The best way of ensuring that is to make sure that everyone sticks to the same definitions and the same rules of sentence construction. Language does change, but slowly, not on a whim that leaves others in the dark.

  47. Anonymous Coward


    You're worried about one (or a few more) Yanks not being able to pronounce this word, but then the entire Yank nation can't pronounce "aluminium"

  48. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    If this particular word were to be used only in its original sense (that being the sort of collective punishment banned by the Geneva conventions, yet tame in the context of modern genocide) I'm guessing the syllables would be available for recycling in fairly short order. I'm told that Samurai once had a word for "to test a new sword on random passersby." Is that still used in its original sense? Do modern speakers remember what the word is/was?

  49. J-Wick


    So, is an 'aspirated "wh"' what Stewie was using when he asked Brian for the 'CoolwHHHip'?

    Enquiring (sic) minds want two (sic) no (sic)...

  50. Richard
    Paris Hilton

    Cretinous indeed:

    He either incorrectly doesn't capitalise Cretanism (although why he has something against the inhabitants of Knossos is a mystery) or misspells cretinism (which is particularly blundering as, like nouveau, it is a French loanword).

  51. Luther Blissett

    What's the deal (fig.)?

    That a word has a literal meaning does not preclude it having one or more figurative meanings. End of matter. <yawn/>

    Does anyone have a problem with that? "The kettle boiled... " (not). The "head of the organization... " (uh, so where's its tail?). Of course not. It's one of the joys of language - until school kills it for you. Scholars and pedants could never have written Roger's Profanosaurus for example (tho monkeys with typewriters in theory could).

    For journalism as reporting, rather than journalism as propaganda, it matters only whether 10% of the object was destroyed, or more. If the item doesn't tell me, I assume someone is making a propaganda point. Then the interest is in who, and why.

    But Tony (Class of 70) is right to point out unintentionally the widespread ignorance of the distinction between plain and figurative meanings. It's been a disaster for science and a disaster for poetics, with many scientists (the "consensus"?) now pursuing the blatantly unknowable [because it just don't exist, right], and lit. critters imagining they are contributing to human knowledge with their "deep [but surprisingly occult] truths" about "human nature". Wot a shambles.

    If it weren't for the fact that education is so generally useless that it can only decimate 10% of free-thinking Britons into supporting the Lisbon Treaty, there would be reason for concern. Any bets that that 10% is the scholarly 10% of the population?

  52. Jonathan Richards
    Black Helicopters

    @jim parker

    > could you arrange to severely chastise all those who mean nothing but say nothink.

    I regret that all the Official Chastisement Officers are engaged in hunting down splitters of infinitives. Helicopter, to remind you to listen for one. :)

  53. Anonymous Coward

    GW and weapons of mass destruction

    I've always thought the Bush pronunciation of nuclear ("nukular") makes perfect sense considering he's bound to believe the word is derived from the word "nuke."

  54. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    "Make sure GWB is aware that he sounds like an idiot *every* time he gets it wrong!"

    GWB sounds like an idiot every time he opens his mouth. No need to wait around for him to say nukular.

    We can only hope he's not the penultimate idiot in his position.

  55. Edward Rose

    Ah, English....

    @Marc Savage

    Ill agree when hell freezes over. Don't IS shorter than do not. Or shall I just write dnt? Oh heck, , is quicker.

    Anywho, yep it is evolving, and I quite agree with the chap who pointed out that clarity of meaning is the most important thing (and thanks to Tony for the education on the history of decimate).

    But I will always get 'short' with people who have 'a go' at me because I took something they said literally when the meant something completely different. Learn what the word means if you are going to have a go at someone for having a better understanding than you (not directed at Tony, just something I get a lot).

    And, ICT?

    What is information if it is not communicated - nothing.

    What do you communicate if not information - nothing.

    It is NOT ICT, one thing the English language does say, and I must agree - "Don't repeat yourself". It's just one FCP (fking clueless politician) who thinks that everything must be a TLA because STLAs aren't fashonable.

  56. Anonymous Coward

    I bet this bloke is a great laugh down the pub

    I have to say, I am surprised by the vehemence with which people berate George W Bush for not pronouncing "nuclear" very well.

    Personally I am a lot more concerned about him being a raving fucking loon who unleashes large scale death and destruction around the world for reasons which have yet to be clearly explained.

    In fact, Iraq might well be decimated if he's not careful.

  57. ScientologyIsACult

    @ easyk

    a single cell = 1.5v

    so all 1.5 v batteries are a single cell

  58. john


    gcc -ENGLISH -ansi -pedantic

    The one that really annoys me is your instead of you're.

    If you can't spell it then stick to "you are"

    A bit like there & their.

  59. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    "El Reg decimates English language"


    You guys have it easy, try being Canadian. We like the UK, really we do, but we are neighbours with the US. We have tonnes of tradition including language from the UK, but all of our stoopid dictionaries are defaulted to "US" spelling, so Firefox (and others) underscribbles neighbour, colour, catalogue, etc...

    Then the major US television networks send their anchors to Canada to learn our accent, or in some people's views, lack of accent.

    I still don't get the whole "about" thing either. When in Ireland I am never accused of being American they say, because of "about". Is it because I use the word, or because of pronunciation? I do not say it as "aboot". I have heard both reasons.

    Also, what's up with the "Greengrocers' Apostrophe's"? Never heard this one.


  60. Steve

    Re: "incorrect usage"?

    "and yes, that means if someone says "ignorence" it's you sad smirkers who are the fools. there's no "right spelling", it's just that you were taught that there was. there's the commonest spelling, sure, but that is not the same thing at all."

    Jiaflk, oavoni sjki ohndsv^^ks. Kafu; kjaolso isnfk wnwncpo laasof mqbfi. Plloa oac mqnvon obi oecha lkcqno lksva?

    If the spelling isn't "wrong" and the grammar isn't "wrong", the fact that you failed to understand the above can only be down to the fact that you cannot read. Or maybe you need to understand the difference between theory and practice - in theory there is none, but in practice there is.

    Language is about communicating an idea. If the rest of the world uses one convention and you try to communicate using a different convention, then you most certainly /are/ wrong. The degree of your wrongness can be measured by the size/number of differences between your conventions and those of your target group.

    If you are in the middle of a diatribe berating people for their incorrect use of language, there most definitely are right and wrong ways to spell ignurrents.

  61. breakfast Silver badge

    New Cretanism

    I, for one, welcome our new Cretan overlords.

    However, it would seem only too possible that a hobby horse would be ridden until it had no legs as from what i recall a hobby horse is a broom stick with a toy horse's head on it (or a sock with some buttons for eyes) and consequently somewhat short on legs to start with.

  62. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Confused - 1/10 or 9/10

    Is it cut down to or by 1/10th?

    Unfortunately I think it originally meant to kill one in every ten - if you did knock down one sand castle out of the 10 available sand castles that would be a decimation of that particular set of sand castles.

    Rather takes the fun out of the word - 9/10ths has more of a ring to it; those soppy sentimental Romans. It is more of a 'oh no not another deicimation', rather than a 'completely decimated!'.

    Maybe decimation is an iterative thing, so we keep taking the 1/10th a few times, perhaps a 'decidecimation', so from a set of 1000 a decidecimation would take you down to 351, which is a little bit more respectable.

    English is non standardized, if you wish to speak a standardised language, hop over the channel to our beret wearing, baguette munching, garlic loving chums.

  63. Geoff Webber

    Pronounciation and speling

    Shirley as a nation we have 2 deside weather we are going to try to spel correctlee or knot.

    To be able to spell correctly reqiures that we also speke or pronownce corectlee.

    Even the BBC can't say the word for a businessmans right hand lady proplee.

    They prefer to say seckatree witch of course is nonsense.

  64. P. J. Isserlis

    MUST change?

    What is this assertion based upon? Language MUST change. There is no MUST about it, only a language Nazi would say so to excuse his own ability to use a language.

    I hope that all these people who can not cope with the idea of, e.g., "proper" English, are not programmers. Try telling the Java or C compilers that it's not important if one mangles the syntax or abuses a keyword. If one can not even manage one's native language to an educated and attractive level, how can one expect good, logical computer programming or any logical problem solving using any tools: linguistic, mental, technical? Oh, sorry, perhaps you work for Microsoft and share its view of common standards and clarity.

    Language is about tools for thought and creativity, for mundane usage and the accurate, intelligible expression of ideas, orders, agreements, social chat. The more nitwits who do not understand their own language try to make it "evolve", the greater the misunderstandings between people. Witness American vs. UK English: if one is inexperienced, one may think every nuance and meaning is the same. With real, prolonged face-to-face experience, one quickly realises that not only is syntax often different; so too are underlying semantics and ideas, often dangerously so.

    Of course, language extends to express new ideas and technologies. It does not have to mutate to excuse the less able from using their native language intelligently, attractively, powerfully and correctly. Indeed, the George Bushisms, Tony Blair/Gordon Brown spinnery etc. show the case for proper usage powerfully. Try reading George Orwell's appendix to "1984", for example, as a discussion of how the manipulation and misuse of language is used to manipulate thinking.

    Laziness and incompetence are just those, whatever the excuses.

  65. David Cornes

    Slippery slope

    I'm not going to jump into the "language ain't what it used to be" (sic) argument: where do you stop? Should we all go back to conversing like a Dickens novel, or perhaps even Chaucer?!

    But please PLEASE don't abandon the apostrophe - it conveys a vital if subtle meaning, and the language would be a lot poorer (and more confusing) without it!

  66. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Nukular Presidents

    "Nukular" grates on me every time I hear. In particular, it's really annoying when ex-President Jimmy Carter says it, as he served in the nuclear submarine program when he was in the U.S. Navy.

    Jimmy Carter - now there's an incompetent President for you.

  67. Anonymous Coward


    Loathe as I am to allow our stateside friends the joy of being notionally correct, IIRC Aluminum is actually the correct (correct as in the first "accepted" name) name. It was only after the initial naming, that the name was changed to aluminium to be consistent with the other metallic elements of that ilk.

    I think early in the 20thCentury, the americans went back to aluminum as the name. So speaks my hazy A-Level Chemistry.

  68. Znort666

    Where we go wrong with teaching the English language...

    at school we are taught the three R's:

    Reading - Good start begins with an R.

    Writing - Still has an R sound at the beginning as the W is silent.

    Arithmatic - Nope not an R sound, but an A sound.

    That I feel is the fundamental mistake and the reason so many people could have done beter had they been taught properly. They need to change this and teach children WAR or RAW in schools, preferrably the former.


    UK schools teach children WAR in the classroom.

  69. Geoff Webber
    Black Helicopters

    @ edward rose

    Now if we are going to moan about not repeating yourself - my favourite is the "PIN Number"

    What on earth is the N in Pin for if we are going to add the word Number at the end of the phrase.

    And yes......... I am often accused of having Asperger's tendancies as I seek confirmation of statements (especially from my boss) when asking me to do something.

    He often says one thing and actually means something else.

    So his command of the English language is insufficient to pass his thoughts onto another, but then he is Irish !

    Black helicopter to whisk me away before he twiggs.

  70. Tom Austin

    @Peter Fielden-Weston "One in ten"

    ...I used to wonder about the last less-than-ten clump of legionaries being decimated too, back when I had the smatterings of a classical education. Damn you for bringing that troubling mental issue back to me.

    I think you're right: maybe a carefully-judged to-a-multiple-of-a-tenth beating. Or perhaps a carefully-judged maiming?

    There is nothing in Google about it, either. Does anyone classically-oriented out there have any ideas / actual knowledge?

  71. Dave in the States

    Not Defending GWB...

    For some reason "nuclear" pronounced "nucular" is rooted in the 50's somewhere. I grew up pronouncing it incorrectly and worked to correct it. Still slip up from time to time.

  72. J Thompson


    Anyone reading this far down must really care about the english language, in which case they probably watched with great interest, as I did, the tremendous series presented by Melvyn Bragg called 'The Journey of English'.

    After watching that, you realise that english, more than any other language in history, has been adopted and localised to such an extent that there is no 'correct' version of it anymore. English in India is no more incorrect than english in North America or english in Glasgow. What is important, especially when using written english, is that sufficient attention is given to grammar, spelling, etc. such that there is no ambiguity in what you're writing.

    Purists may lambast (?) the use of a lower case 'i' when spelling Internet (as in THE Internet), but more often than not when people are writing about the Internet, there is absolutely no danger of ambiguity between AN internet and THE Internet. Using a lower case 'i' would not be such a crime. Keyboard is another example - no one suspects for a minute that I'm typing this on a piano, unless they have willfully abandoned common-sense.

    English is a fluid thing (a point often used in defence of dreaded txt spk). Fluidity is good, but it's essential to maintain enough traditional usage to avoid ambiguity. I can't imagine anyone being confused by the modern, non-ancient use of the word decimate, provided it's spelled (or is it spelt?) correctly, and not being used in discussion of ancient Roman military practices. Only then could you be wrong.

  73. Anonymous Coward

    @Chris Collins

    "Remember that arguing on the internet is like winning the Special Olympics."

    I think the incredibly offensive phrase you were looking for was "Arguing on the internet is like -running- in the Special Olympics... because even if you win, you're still retarded." Just like I am for pointing out your mistake. Touche, sir, a well set trap.

  74. Anonymous Coward
    Thumb Down


    'You're worried about one (or a few more) Yanks not being able to pronounce this word, but then the entire Yank nation can't pronounce "aluminium"'

    Not true. The word you think we're mispronouncing is spelled (or spelt) "aluminum." That's one of the original spellings -- if Wikipedia is to be trusted -- and the one we continue to use.

  75. gfs


    Is Ignorent not what the Igno tribe pay their landlords?

    Mines the parka with the gloves on a string

  76. James Condron

    For God's Sake

    Let it go mat, not every ime someon writes to yu do we need bloody artcle... And hree pages t that? Its bit excessve, is it no?

  77. Robin Lettice (Written by Reg staff)
    Thumb Down

    Re: For God's Sake

    We were not pleased by this comment, so we had it decimated.

  78. Mike Moyle

    But, wait... There's more...!

    20-some years ago, I used to hang about with some journalists, one of whom had worked for a newspaper in the American south.

    In dealing with politicians there, he noted that there were certain words that some of them simply could NOT pronounce correctly and, if the interview or press conference was boring, he would try to maneuver them into using one or more of them on the record.

    He counted it as a total win if he could get them to refer to the "Amurrican nucular bidness."

    (And, Lester... are you really from Crete?)

  79. b166er

    Ahhh...polarised opinions

    The basic stumbling blocks of communication (no matter what the language).

    You see, you are all right ;p (or is that correct?)

  80. Morely Dotes

    @ Neil Hoskins

    Sergeants are non-commissioned officers, teh operation word being "officers."

    And GW Bush sounds like a moron every time he speaks. Use of the (non-)word "nucular" simply underscores his cretinism.

    I was, however, unaware that El Reg hacks had destroyed a full tenth of the English language. That should make the Oxford Unabridged Dictionary considerably easier to carry about.

  81. Anonymous Coward

    @J Thompson

    Well said, sir (madam?... see, I was awake during the political correctness lessons...)... I decided against contributing to this thread originally, because I happen to believe that, almost invariably, an argument about "modern usage" justifying change in the usage of language is simply a poor excuse for ignorance and/or illiteracy.

    But the ambiguity issue is more important - it is now quite common for written work (alas, even on the BBC Web site, and in the Times) to be not only riddled with poor spelling and grammar, but also to be imprecise and ambiguous.

    Don't get me started on the incorrect use of "may" (permissive) when "might" (probabilistic) should be used...

    Not exactly the end of the world, but a depressing and irreversible decline in the ability of humanity to intercommunicate, all the same.

  82. Daniel B.
    Thumb Up


    Backlash against the grammar nazis! Good!!! =) Only thing he did get right was the "nucular" but then, anything Dubya says sounds retard anyway.

    The "decimate" discussion reminds me of the "bizarre / bizarro" discussion I once heard in the radio. Even when the modern meaning of the word "bizarro" is the same as "bizarre", some people insist that the meaning is wrong, having some other obscure meaning (can't remember which.)

    I'd be more concerned about those who don't know the difference between "lose" and "loose" or other blatant mistakes in spelling ;)

  83. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    @aluminium / aluminum

    Aluminium is the official preferred name.

    IIRC Davey first called it Alumium, then aluminum then aluminium.

    So either Aluminium or alumium should be used, but no good argument for aluminum.

  84. Simon Barnes

    another definition

    decimation has another meaning in signal processing, where it means 'reduction by some specified proper fraction' :-)

    I listened to an eminent linguistic scholar on the radio a few years ago who pointed out that language changes all the time in a very democratic way, as we all get to chose which words we use and what we intend them to mean...

  85. William Wallace

    Wot about December?

    which, as any fule kno, is the tenth month.

  86. Anonymous Coward

    And another thing

    Sorry, but I only just thought of this.

    Matey boy who made the original (borderline-autistic) comment is not likely to get his wish for accurate decimation even in ancient Rome, unless the Romans were in the habit of forming Army groups *exactly* divisible by 10.

    I know they had Centurions, and that they commanded units of 100 men each, but surely that had to be an approximate size because they would have lost people in battle, to illness and in fact to decimation itself.

    Maybe if they had 93 blokes left, they killed 1 in 10 and then cut the 93rd bloke's arm off just to be fair.

    Or they waited for a convenient moment to sign up 7 new recruits and then killed one of them.

    The goggle-eyed boffin, because I've never used that icon before and this post is vaguely mathematical.

  87. Morely Dotes

    @ Dave in the States

    Your memory is spot-on. President Eisenhower said "nucular."

  88. g e

    Never mind that...

    I notice the kids' Collins French.German to English ("English" - pah) dictionaries spell organise with a 'zee' ... organize.

    Does the OED now have -ize spellings instead of -ise ??

    Too lazy (frightened) to check.

  89. Simon Barnes

    By any other name

    decimation has another meaning in signal processing, where it means 'reduction by some specified proper fraction' :-)

    I listened to an eminent linguistic scholar on the radio a few years ago who pointed out that language changes all the time in a very democratic way, as we all get to chose which words we use and what we intend them to mean...

  90. Nano nano

    Molesworth spelling ...

    "as any ful no" ?

    I thought it was "as any fule kno" ...

  91. John Browne


    It looks like the usage of the word has changed through wide incorrect usage and consensus.

    Sounds suspiciously like the wisdom of crowds, wikipedia, web 2.0 philosophy to me.

    I thought we were supposed to ridicule that?

    I suppose even the Register had to succumb to this eventually.

  92. Josh Holman

    Romanes Eunt Domus

    What is this then? Romanes eunt domus, "People called Romanes they go the house"?

  93. Red Bren

    My €0.03

    Just because a word is commonly misused doesn't make it correct. Some examples:

    "Evolution is only a theory!" - Creationists don't understand what a theory is

    "I'll be there while 2 O'Clock" - Yorkshire folk aren't taught about the word "until"

    "It's a quantum leap" - So not very big then!

    @znort - it's pronounced R-ith-matic, buit I prefer your WAR effort

  94. Anonymous Coward

    Kettle, pot, black, and all that

    The use of the phrase "the "I'm really very stupid" identifier" itself may in fact be an identifier of stupidity. This kind of bastardization of language (by which I mean not just English) is akin to lower class California usage, for example: "And I was all, like, "Who is this guy?""

  95. Stu
    Dead Vulture


    *Yaaaaawn* Slow news day then, three pages about some idiot rant? Of which itself turned into a kind of stupid rant.

    Thanks Lester!

    Probably worthwhile just sticking to publishing Darwin award candidates and their kerrrazy deaths.


    I remember seeing the same cold-war documentary with the presenter who does the 'nucular' thing, really pissed me off too.

    Speaking of which, who else here gets pissed off by the whole Omega 3 health advert thing, instead pronounced as 'Amiga'. One is a greek letter of the alphabet, another is an 80s-90s home computer ffs. Should be pronounced 'O-Mega' surely? Or is it just me? ;-)

    But I suppose on the other side of the coin, you have people who are too die-hard about the 'correct' pronunciation of Linux.

  96. anarchic-teapot

    Poor Cretans

    I didn't know the inhabitants of Crete were responsible for the terrible decay in English usage.

    Mine's the one with the beer stains, Press pass, and dogeared dictionary in the pocket. Ta.

  97. Chad Larson

    You've proven his point

    Listing all those other examples just proved his point. More people than just you (Lester) are using decimated incorrectly.

    Quick: What does livid mean?

  98. Anonymous Coward
    Thumb Up

    Fantastic troll, Lester


  99. Keith T
    Paris Hilton

    Nukular -- since when is English a phonetic language ???

    How can anyone get out of first grade in elementary school without learning that English is NOT a phonetic language?

    Spelling and pronounciation are so loosely related, in English, as to be almost independant. Even Paris knows this!

    Webster is the definitive guide to American English, and Webster's dictionary classes ÷ nü-kyl(r) as "a common varient of pronounciation that occurs in educated speech".

    Quoting Webster's FAQ on this issue, :


    "Many people object to those pronunciations of February and nuclear on the basis that they do not conform to the spelling of the word. However, to say "the word is spelled (x), and therefore should be pronounced (y)" doesn't make any sense. Spelling is not a legitimate basis for determining pronunciation, for the following reasons:

    "1. English spelling is highly irregular. For example, "move", "dove", and "cove" are spelled similarly but pronounced differently. Likewise, "to," "too," and "two" are spelled differently and pronounced the same.

    "2. English spelling is frequently based on factors besides pronunciation. For example, the "c" represents three different sounds in "electrical", "electricity" and "electrician", but is spelled the same in all to show that the words are related.

    "3. Most importantly, spoken language is primary, not written language. Indeed, only spoken language can be truly considered "language." Writing is a collection of symbols meant to represent spoken language. It is not language in and of itself. Many written languages (Spanish, Dutch, etc.), will regularly undergo orthographic reforms to reflect changes in the spoken language. This has never been done for English (the spelling of which has never been regularized in the first place), so what we use for written language is actually largely based on the spoken language of several centuries ago.

    "All of the entries in our dictionary (including their pronunciations, meanings, etc.) are based on usage. We have an extensive collection of files which date back to the 19th century. Language is changing all of the time in all respects, and any dictionary which purports to be an accurate description of the language in question must be constantly updated to reflect these changes. All words were pronounced differently at some time in the past. There is simply no scholarly basis for preferring one pronunciation over another, and the term "correct" pronunciation doesn't mean anything objectively. To not list all pronunciation variants would be irresponsible and a failure of our mission to provide a serious, scholarly, record of the current American English language. ""

  100. Law

    ignorence is blessed

    hang on... somethings not right.......

    ah - there it is! :)

  101. Luther Blissett

    Too good not to share

    BBC R4 News at 6 pm reported an official denial that the nu labour 24hr licensing laws were causing "mayhem". Probably most listeners would put the effect in the criminal category of "disorderly behaviour" (figurative meaning). It was not at all obvious if the original speaker or the reporter intended the quite different criminal category of ABH or GBH (literal meaning).

    Well done British Propaganda Corporation. Especially after treating us this morning to an "economics correspondent" giving an utterly fatuous explanation of the recent doubling of wheat prices to record levels as due to future events - like world population growth, increased appetite (caused, oddly enough, by increasing wealth), etc. (And yes, I am aware of options and futures). But, Lord, spare us the Berks.

    You were informed. It was called 1984.

  102. b166er

    Spellcheck THAT mofo!

    Aoccdrnig to a rscheearch at Cmabrigde Uinervtisy, it deosn't mttaer in waht oredr the ltteers in a wrod are, the olny iprmoetnt tihng is taht the frist and lsat ltteer be at the rghit pclae. The rset can be a toatl mses and you can sitll raed it wouthit a porbelm. Tihs is bcuseae the huamn mnid deos not raed ervey lteter by istlef, but the wrod as a wlohe.

  103. nagyeger

    @Pete McPhedran - About and other language thingumies

    As someone brought up in S.E.England, I'd say about as [əˈbɐwtʰ]. I'm not sure how others pronounce it, maybe we should have a survey..

    I pronounce also "marry merry Mary" with 3 distinct vowels. (ok, to be pedantic, 2 different phonetic vowel qualities but there's a length difference between merry and Mary). I've met someone from the other side of the pond who can't tell the difference, and he's met someone who can't pronounce the difference between lawyer and liar, which probably make for interesting jokes...

  104. Maty

    More history ...

    Cohorts got decimated for poor performance (read dumping shield and heading for the tall timber) in battle, not for being mutinous. Most famous decimation was by Licinius Crassus as a preliminary to beating Spartacus.

    Leave my coat by the door. It's got nits on it.

  105. Richard Scratcher
    Paris Hilton

    Accelerated evolution or a malignant cancer?

    It's all very well saying that English is a living language, which has always been changing but with today's news media, films, the telly and the interweb, it can mutate horribly before it has a chance to repair itself.

    I understand and accept that American usage has diverged from British usage and many of the changes made are logical and, perhaps, inevitable, e.g. center, fiber, meter, acre?

    However, some words get changed simply because people with influence use them in a wrong or different way and the herd follows their lead.

    Go into a cafe or restaurant in Brazil and you'll see "expresso coffee" on the menu. Ask a native about this spelling and they'll say it's so named because it's quick to make. So that's an entire nation copying one dumb mistake. Mind you, what do Brazilians know about making coffee?

    In America you'll hear the word momentarily used to mean "in a moment". The cabin crew announce "We'll be landing momentarily", and then wonder why everyone jumps out of their seats and starts grabbing their luggage before the plane comes to a halt! That usage is on its way to the UK and we're docile enough to accept it. It's all very well saying the context makes the meaning clear but why not just use the right word?

    The other day I heard a newsreader on the BBC describe something as "a big ask". The effin' BBC for heaven's sake! To what is this nation coming?

    Words such as literally, awesome, chronic and docile have useful and important meanings. We should not just abandon them.

    Insisting that decimate has to be limited to 10% loss though? Nah, that's just being silly.

    Oh, and by the way, the idea of an aspirated "wh" sound is nonsense. You can't aspirate a "'w" unless you begin exhalation before your lips form the "w". Therefore you are saying "hw" hwhich is not hwhat you hwhished to say.

    (Paris because she's quite literally awesome.)

  106. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Batteries and cells

    Most of the common sizes of battery _are_ in fact cells: This goes for AAA's, AA's, C's and D's. The only common off-the-shelf battery that is in fact a battery is the PP3.

    And Keith T is slightly off if he thinks "to", "too", and "two" are homophones. "Too" and "two" may be, but "to" is marginally less stressed. The difference is subtle enough that they are identical in IPA but it is still there.

  107. Dave Morris

    @Lee RE: Aluminum vs. Aluminium

    The link you provided lists both Aluminium and Aluminum - this does not support your assertion that one is more correct than the other. Indeed, it seems to support the idea that they are both correct. The link name itself could be seen in support, if it were not for the obvious confusion that could be caused by having 2 web pages referring to the same element by different names; thus one must be chosen for the link. That Aluminium was selected indicates that the namer of the page most likely learned a more British variant of the English language.

    I can verify that the word is always spelled as Aluminum in the States; thus it is pronounced with an ending "num," rather than with an ending "nium."

    I would say you're better off arguing about other pronunciations that do not reflect the spelling of the word. Even then, though, you should bear in mind that both the British and American variants of the language contain these nuances. Even worse, both have some that are the same, inherited from French, usually.

  108. M Neligan

    @PJ Isserlis

    Thanks for an excellent posting; wish I could put it so well.

    Re "language Nazis": can it be so very wrong to use piano wire on those who use "disinterested" when they mean "uninterested"?

  109. Anonymous Coward


    That someone took so long to craft a reply over the correct use (but not the vernacular use) of "decimated"

    To use the vernacular, I would suggest that the author might be in dire need of getting "laid".

  110. kaiserb_uk


    IS NOT A VERB!!!

    That is all.

  111. lee harvey osmond

    Decimating English? Removing one word in ten?

    After all, how many words and euphemisms do we have for the sexual act, or ordure, and a bunch of other things? Surely we can safely withdraw some of them?

    "Hello children. Today we are going to read the Decimated English edition of A A Milne's classic, Winnie The Shit"

  112. Alan Donaly

    The language is stupid anyway.

    Take a look at this site if you don't think so.

    I can't stand people carping away about any human language use or abuse when it's only just slapped together nonsense anyway. I bet you think you know what I mean, hah!

  113. Pierre

    Good comment though

    And good that it had been published finally. It's worth reading really. I've never seen such a display of inconsistent use of punctuation since I gave up on 12-yo-targetted blogging sites. Add a couple of meaningless neologisms, and a few very ill-advised displays of deficient syntax ("It is a word with a precise meaning from a precise history[...]", "The word means...and means nothing else..."to cut down (an assembly of people, usually and army or hostages) by a tenth"...not "two tenths" or fifty percent or any other degree or number and neither 'enormously' cut down/diminished/destroyed/reduced nor "totally destroyed" , nor anything else than its singular meaning."-boy, I can't even enumerate the number of obvious flaws in this last sentence-, ...)

    Good display of ridiculous pedantism by a clueless person.

    Even I, poor French-speaking bastard living in an lamerican-speaking environment, am able to see that it's nowhere near correct, good-old-Blighty type English. I guess the guy (bastardised meaning intended) corrects Python code by removing all these annoying tabs. Because, you know, VisualBasic taught him how to "do real good programmation".

    ""Had a "good laugh" "here". "For free". It "decimated" my "bad moodz". "ROFL".

    (I would have added a "couple" of "smiley", but "" couldn't find the "emoticons").

  114. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    A large part?

    I'd say that killing 10% of the population would be considered killing a large part of it.

    Besides if everyone threw themselves into a well you wouldn't follow, would you?

  115. Anonymous Coward

    Lester Haines: 34567929 - other trolls/trollers/wuteva: 0

    Good troll. You're my God. I want to be you when I grow old.

    (an anonymous baguette-and beret type)

    PS (@ AC on 4th March 2008 15:55 GMT) Since when is French more standardised than English? Since we have a proper education system you say? (@pedants: note the witty use of since... ;-) and the old-style smiley... I'm sure ancient greeks used this one instead of the poor MSN's or Skype's ";)" ).

    OK, granted. But don't worry: the times, they are a-changing. Soon French will be a total mess also!

  116. Anonymous Coward

    About Al (yes, it is a lower case L. Sod the IT angle)

    Aluminum's prolly da korekt Brit spelin' . Aluminium's mor consistent, kemicoli-wise. Dat's Y we French Ppl yoused ta rite it dat ouay. Whos ya Daddy?

  117. Pierre


    "Our beloved mother tongue reduced by [one tenth/to rubble]"

    Thou shurely means "language"...

    'less your mother makes extensive usage of this muscular appendice of hers, the Paris way. Unlubricated "meat popsicles" can have unwanted effects. The subtitle would still lacks a "'s" then.

  118. Martin Nicholls
    Paris Hilton

    English - A Decimated Language?

    Hate it when people get all pissy about how English is going to hell because blah blah.

    Anybody that knows anything about anything knows full well that the language was intended since birth to evolve such that it's always relevant. Yes we really care about Roman armies, seriously, because that has plenty of modern relevance.

    This guy is probably one of the people that bitched/winged when the OED removed hyphenation from a bunch of words. These people always try to show off their linguistic skills by complaining about word usage - even though the fact they are complaining about changes in the OED clearly shows that they don't have the slightest clue what they are talking about.

    The language isn't being decimated by anybody other than the people that think they know better than a dictionary.

    The sooner these people become extinct the better.

    Hilton icon because even she probably knows the true meaning of decimated.

  119. Andy S

    Eats, Shoots & Leaves

    I'd really recommend the following book.

    One person's crusade to try and tell people that punctuation really does matter :)

  120. James Anderson

    Anal retentives vs. English as she is spoke

    There is a certain sort of person with an Anal retentive personality who will always have problems with "real" English.

    The anal retentive wants to go to school for a couple of years, learn the rules/words etc., and apply those rules pedantically for the rest of their lives.

    English however is not a dead language like Latin, French or German where "correctness" is defined in academic books. English is a living evolving constantly mutating language.

    The nearest English ever got to the "Academy Francais" - that group of learned morticians who preside over the corpse of French as she is prescribed - is those good people at the Oxford English Dictionary.

    The OEDs definition of English loosely transcribed is "English is the language understood by English speakers".

  121. Andy Worth

    Grammar Nazi....

    So the Grammar Nazi who wrote the mail to El Reg, does he actually realise that at the bottom of his own mail he thanks himself? I also wonder if he refuses to acknowledge any word that was "accepted" by the English language since the beginning of the 20th century. New words come, meanings of existing words change and develop over time.

    There might even be a day that "innit" appears in the Oxford English Dictionary.

    And honestly, if you get so excited by a misuse of a word, I think you need to look at your life and wonder why you bother.

  122. Anonymous Coward

    Tony's Theme

    Nice to know that Viz's Mr Logic (The Professional Gobshite) is alive, well and reading El Reg.

  123. Anonymous Coward
    Gates Horns

    Architect, the verb

    My pet hate is people that use "architect" as a verb and before anyone points it out I know it's in the OED. It just sounds wrong and is very, very annoying especially when it's Bill Gates in that voice of his that sounds like a dentist's drill.

    Program is another annoying one. Whenever I set up a new Windows box for a friend I always create a /programme files directory and install all their crap in there. Why? Just because I can.

  124. Ryan Greenaway

    With In

    Also, he should surely of used the word "within" instead of "with in", am I right?

    I have to admit "pigeon english" that plagues the country nowadays does get on my goat, but rest assured the lazy gits who can't pronounce their words correctly, and are unable to form to sensible sentence and argument (se Big Brother), will not have made it to this site, and if they did, their attention span would not have allowed them to get past the first page of this article, therefore shouldn't cause any offence.

    The word "bovvered" will be next for scrutiny, mark my words.

    Smiley face, he's not bovvered!

  125. Sceptical Bastard

    @ Eats, Shoots and Leaves

    FFS, you recommend THAT vile book?

    It is proscriptive, in places plain wrong, and written in an uptight buttock-clenched style by a know-it-all language Nazi. Decimation? I'd like to decimate Lynn-bloody-Truss (mainly to keep her simpering face, patronising voice and crap haircut off the telly).

    A word about split infinitives. Just because the bloody Romans couldn't do it doesn't mean we shouldn't. We should - and often - if for no other reason than it so irritates purists.

    To each their own English. If, for example, the 'Murcanns want to mispronounce 'missile' to rhyme with 'thistle' and 'route' to rhyme with 'nowt', let them - they know what they mean and so do most speakers of British English. 'Murcann English is far less incomprehensible to most Englishmen than the weird distorted sounds made by Glaswegians, Scousers, the Welsh, and virtually everyone aged between 15 and 20.

    Bah! Humbug

  126. Matthew

    @ all this pedantry...

    As a long-standing grammar pedant and member of Keith Waterhouse's AAAA (Association for the Annihilation of the Aberrant Apostrophe) I've been following this discussion with some interest.

    My £0.02: most of these issues are technicalities.

    - Decimate: means the loss of one tenth but, when it is misused, we all still understand the context. So I generally let this slip-up pass and don't correct it .

    - Battery: without technical knowledge or analysis it is difficult to be certain how many cells are contained within a battery. Sometimes it is correct to use the term 'battery' and sometimes not: again, save the correction for when pedantry is essential.

    - Aluminium: the reason we use this spelling is to ensure consistency in the periodic table with other metals. The '-ium' ending is so pervasive that consistency seems sensible.

    - Apostrophes: I have never understood the problem with them; if one (or more) letters have been removed, an apostrophe shows where this contraction took place. On roadsigns, 'B'ham' has an apostrophe to show the contraction from 'Birmingham'. Alternatively an apostrophe is used to show possession (as with 'Bob's paper' equalling 'The paper that belongs to Bob'. It really is very simple!

    - 'Me' and 'I': this is my personal most-hated misuse of the language - I can't stand those instances where people use 'me' when they should use 'I' (and vice versa). Simply re-read the sentence omitting any other referenced people and it's easy. If you're not sure whether 'Fred and me went to the pub' is correct, it is a lot easier to spot the correct usage when you read 'Me went to the pub'.

    This debate has gone some way to show that there a great deal of people who do still care about their language. As long as people still care, the pedants among us can retain exalted status: I am sure I am not the only one consulted by the less-well-informed as to the correct usage of an expression.

  127. Spleen

    You and me vs you and I

    What with the fact that most monolinguists don't know the difference between the subject and the object, those that do tend to hypercorrect (i.e. get so obsessed with using 'you and I' they use it when they actually *should* use 'you and me'), and those who do avoid hypercorrection don't know that the object of the verb "to be" takes the nominative rather than the usual accusative, you might as well give up on that one.

  128. Anonymous Coward


    ...apart from GW bush being an idiot.

    English is evolving because we would all be talking like a play from William shakespear otherwise. Sad thing is the youf' of today are speeding up the change,

    Roman legions were around 6000 men and centurions were not in charge of a hundred, they were in charge of less.

    Doesn't anyone watch QI????

  129. This post has been deleted by its author

  130. Anonymous Coward
    Thumb Up

    The Queens English

    What's all that ALUMINUM lark then ?

    These colonials really do need to go back to Oxbridge for goodness sake.

    Any decent English teachers around ?

  131. Riccardo Spagni

    @Red Bren

    [Red Bren]

    "Evolution is only a theory!" - Creationists don't understand what a theory is

    [Riccardo Spagni]

    I'm a little confused, and WITHOUT getting into a creation vs. evolution debate (please no), from what I understand neither the theories of creation or evolution have valid scientific PROOF. They both have EVIDENCE, but none of it empirical. Therefore, they are BOTH theory's as per (heh heh) Wiktionary's definition:

    3 (countable) (sciences) A coherent statement or set of statements that attempts to explain observed phenomena.

    "There is now a well-developed theory of electrical charge."

    Correct me if I've misunderstood?

    Alien, just in case alienists are right.

  132. Kathy du Buisson


    Don't you mean fewer?

  133. Roger Hughes

    @ g e

    The Oxford University Press has always preferred -ize endings, although its rules provide for rather more -ise exceptions than those normally used for American spellings. The idea that British English should only ever use the later Frenchified -ise endings appears to date back to some point in the late 1990s, when Microsoft Office's spell-checker became ubiquitous - imposed on us by the Americans, in other words.

    And in the most recent instances of decimation (officially thus described) as a military punishment that I know of - in the Italian army during World War 1 - the numbers of soldiers executed in the units being punished were much lower than one in ten, somewhere along the lines of two or three per company - so much for mathematical prescriptivism as well.

  134. Ian Walker

    @ Learn basic maths as well

    Surely elevimate or twelvimate should be monodecimate and duodecimate respectively?

    Big up to the pedant massive!

  135. David Cornes

    Happy or homo

    Would it be too late to chuck in a discussion of the right and wrong meanings of the word gay here..?? :-D

  136. Kathy du Buisson
    IT Angle

    It is interesting....

    Unless I have missed a comment, noone has asked where the IT relevance is. Maybe, because we are in IT, then we are more concerned with the consistent meaning of terminology. Or possibly we are now so old we can still remember being taught English grammar as a particular subject.

    Yes... English is an evolving language - just note the number of words which have a foreign origin. But (note my advancement by my use of a word which should never start a sentence) I do not believe that the language should be driven by the technology originating in Redmond.

    I live in Australia but am English in origin. Why do I have to spell words such as Organisation as Organization? Apparently either of the 's' and 'z' variations are acceptable in Oz (is this how to keep one eye on both balls?) but If I want to keep consistency for my preference for 's' over 'z' then I have to accept a UK keyboard layout which means my @ is in the wrong place on the keyboard, the \ has disappeared and a whole load of other characters are either displaced or disappeared.

    To me, this is the wrong way to evolve a language.

    And more power to @ all this pedantry... apostrophes rule and I hate split infinitives as well as "off of"

  137. cphi

    unleashed a monster

    with almost every other conceivable complaint about contemporary english already covered, am surprised nobody's yet bitched about 'comprise'

    even the Economist has sold its soul and begun inverting it (parts comprising whole instead of whole comprising parts).

    keeps me awake at night...

  138. Jonah

    Ah, pseud batting :)


    'we personally prefer "usuage", "ignorent", "ignorence" rendered as "usage", "ignorant" and "ignorance", but then we're a bit old skool ourselves when it comes to spelling...'

    It's always fun to hoist the pedant by his own petard! Despite the best of intentions, Lynn Truss seems to have given licence to some dreadful berkery. I see you didn't choose to defend 'for free' which Chambers lists it as a colloquialism and thus entirely in keeping with this site's writing style. Keep up the good work!

  139. Anonymous Coward

    Reg hacks are NOT journalists.

    A "journalist" is one who engages in the profession of writing material for "journals".

    The word "journal" comes from the French adjective daily, hence can only be used to refer to a publication that is published once daily ("stopping the presses" excepted).

    The Register not published in a one edition per day manner, hence is not a journal.

    The vultures would be more correctly referred to as adhoctechnovoscribists. "Scribists", from "scriber", to write; "technovo" as a portmanteau of "techno" and "novo" (meaning "new" or "modern") and "adhoc" from the Latin for "whenever we bloody well feel like it".

    If you continue to refer to yourselves as "journalists", I shall be forced to cancel my subscription.

  140. Graham

    You learn something new every day!

    Today I learnt: the correct historical meaning of the word "decimate", the general meaning of the word "decimate", various interpretations of the word "Cretanism" and that some people really should get out more and loosen up a little.


    Awe inspiring, and completely demonstrated in your comment. I salute you (or should that be "I sulate you")?

    Oh yes, I also learned that most people agree about "nuculuear"!

  141. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Utter rubbish

    "Decimate" means to kill every tenth person from a group. No more and no less. The fact that more and more people are ignorant of this word's meaning is unfortunate, but does not change that meaning.

    Next thing you'll be telling us that "niggardly" really is a term of racial abuse, rather than an adjective denoting mean or miserly.

    Today there are two trends that conspire together. First, levels of education have never been lower; so many people simply don't know the meaning of common words. Second, everyone "knows their rights", which apparently include the right to define words to mean whatever they wish - like Humpty Dumpty. As Lewis Carroll clearly understood, Humpty's assertion that words mean whatever he wants them to mean is so ridiculous precisely because it would obviously lead to the collapse of language as a means of communication. Nowadays, so powerful has become the urge to "express oneself" that the boring old matter of being clearly understood is being neglected. (Then of course we have governments and corporations, which have a vested interest in not being understood - but that's another story).

  142. Chris Hunt

    @ P.J. Isserlis

    "What is this assertion based upon? Language MUST change."

    Well, I don't know about "MUST", but english - and every other living language that I'm aware of - HAS been changing continually for hundreds of years.

    You could take the view that the language evolved from the tongues of Romans, Britons, Angles, Saxons and Normans; through Chaucer, Shakespeare, Dickens and heaven-knows-who-else until it reached its absolute zenith on the first day you went to school. Since then everything's gone downhill. But isn't that a little self centred?

  143. The Other Steve

    @P. J. Isserlis

    "I hope that all these people who can not cope with the idea of, e.g., "proper" English, are not programmers. Try telling the Java or C compilers that it's not important if one mangles the syntax or abuses a keyword"

    What a wonderful example of exactly the lack of education I was talking about.

    The depth of misunderstanding of both human and machine languages demonstrated in your comment is absolutely hilarious.

    You seem to have completely failed to notice the difference between a Push Down Automata implemented in a Von Neumann architecture to parse a formally specified and unambiguous grammar, and an unknown set of functions that have evolved inside a neural network to process a language that has likewise evolved inside such a network, which allow for vast ambiguity, and which are clearly capable of learning new ways of combining and interpreting symbols and structures.

    You have also missed the fact that a) machine languages also evolve and change over time, and b) there are in fact some languages which will quite happily let me 'abuse' keywords by redefining their meaning*, and are even happy for me to chose new meanings for their standard operators based on the context in which I am using them.

    So I restate my case, those (in this thread)** who argue for a static, prescribed grammar and vocab in usage are not only tilting at windmills, but are for the most part arguing from a position of ignorance. Which is sad, because I'm sure there are some decent, well informed, arguments to be made.

    * yeah yeah, I know.

    ** The issue of /teaching/ a formal structure, as is necessarily done in TEFL, is of course a valid one, but this is a separate issue from trying to prescribe common usage.

  144. Anonymous Coward

    Hmmm, modern English speakers can't speak English for shit

    Here in Ireland there are so many mis-pronunciations, and plain old grammar errors it's hilarious.

    From the pronuncing column as colyum, to the "he didn't do it didn't he not", and the ever so ridiculous "that's so gay", when they really mean "that's so shite", it 's a laugh a minute.

    And when you point out the folly of the orator, you are roundly lambasted by all and sundry for being such an dry sh*te

  145. Jonah

    @ Tom Welsh

    Chambers disagrees...

    decimate verb (decimated, decimating) to reduce greatly in number; to destroy a large part or number of something. decimation noun. decimator noun.

    ETYMOLOGY: 17c in this sense; 16c in historical sense 'to select by lot and execute one in every ten': from Latin decimare to take a tenth person or thing, from decem ten.

    We are no longer living in the 1500s, if you choose to adhere to the word's original meaning I hope you are equally rigorous with the following: bead means prayer; hussy means housewife (not derogatory); villain means peasant (not derogatory); restive means at rest; and devious means remote.

    Otherwise you're being hopelessly inconsistent. :)

  146. Steve Glover


    Um, you're not going to like it, but "elivimate" would actually be "undecimate"....

  147. Steve Glover

    @Anonymous Coward

    Actually, it was good old Sir Humphrey Davy who named Aluminum (see also Tantalum, Platinum and Lanthanum)....

  148. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Odd He out

    If aluminium rather than aluminum, then helium needs a new name, ending in -on or -en or perhaps -ine.

    Helon (too much like halon), helion, helen (strewth), heline, heheline... how nice to think that while I sleep language is slowly, quietly evolving and will give us an answer.

  149. Nìall Tracey

    @Tom Welsh

    "The fact that more and more people are ignorant of this word's meaning is unfortunate, but does not change that meaning."

    If people are using it differently, then its meaning has changed. This is the very definition of language change.

    Language is by nature democratic, and if the majority agree on a new definition then that is what the word means.

    By your reasoning, it is erroneous for me to call you "you" -- for in sooth thou art "thou".

  150. Rich Harding

    @The Other Steve

    "Come on guys, the days of RP, Standard English and everyone on telly wearing evening dress are long behind us, and good riddance to them. There are far more interesting things to be pedantic about. Like the internet not having been designed to survive a nuclear war, or the true progression of windows version numbers :-)"

    Yes, indeed. However misuse of sayings does still make some people come across as ignorant twats - I'm thinking of such as:

    "Off his own back"

    "One foul swoop"

    "A bit of a damp squid"

    and so on... The first in particular just makes me want to scream, "Bat, bat, you f*cking idiot; how many cricket runs have you seen scored off someone's back, you utter cretin!!!..." I'm not sure that's what Norman Tebbit meant though...

  151. Luiz Abdala

    Ignorance is Bliss...

    I liked better when I thought that 'decimated' meant that only 1/10th of anything survived!

    We even changed our Team Fortress messages to "Blue Team was decimated", which meant that in a team with 10 guys, only one was still standing!

    Same goes for Quake and Halo!

    Mine is the bloody and gory one, lined with chain mail on the inside, with shrapnel cuts, bullet holes and a sawed-off shotgun concealed in the back.

  152. Nano nano


    Yep, two common 'puns' on numbers-as-words don't strictly work:


    a) "to" - pron. "tuh"

    b) "two" - pron. "toow"

    c) "too" - pron. "tooh"


    a) "for" - pron. "fohr"

    b) "four" - pron. "foor"

    Whether it's just ignorant yoof, we should also have,

    "you're" - pron. "yoowr" - which I txt as "ur" (you are)

    "your" - pron. "yawr" - which I txt as "yr"

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