Monday, October 13, 2008


And Yet Another Rant

Have you ever read a book that just grabbed you by the short hairs and sucked you in in the first paragraph and owned you?


Me too, but the one I'm reading now is the exact opposite. I'm on page two and already I want to go to the author's home and punch her in the face. (The book is Skin and Bone, by Kathryn Fox, if anyone's wondering).

She pissed me off with a single word. That word? Decimated.

"deciĀ·mation n.

Decimate originally referred to the killing of every tenth person, a punishment used in the Roman army for mutinous legions."

(definition gleaned irresponsibly from some source on the interwebs)

So, every tenth person. Ten percent. And yet this dangling trout-biscuit (I'm trying to expand my field of profanity to include fish) has chosen to use the word to describe a house that has been burned almost to the ground. Not ten percent burned. From her awkward description I am led to assume that only about ten percent remains.

"Devastated" would work. "Trashed" is also a viable option. "Fucked up like a fucked-up thing" would also be more accurate than "decimated" although admittedly less lyrical.

And yet she chose to use a perfectly good word, a stellar and powerful word (just think if your ranks were being decimated, wouldn't you be counting quickly to ten and maybe just maybe switching places with the nose-picker to your left?).

Oh sweet honey-drinking FSM, I'm now on page 8 and someone is extolling the virtues of his dog, saying that it can "detect the presence of accelerants up to days later". Um, up to days later? How many? Two, four, sixfuckingteen?

OK, this book gets returned to the liberry without my having explored the depths (and I'll bet they're pretty shallow) of its shoals.

If anyone's wondering where all of this ranting and vitriol is coming from, during the time I spent in the mental ward that is my head this summer, for FIVE SOLID MONTHS the DJ from Hell played the J. Geils Band's "Freeze Frame" on continuous loop. I don't like that band at all and dislike that song specifically. I don't know the lyrics and instead of looking them up like a sane person I made up the words. Five months of some guy singing "I was chewing on a flat black flapjack" in your head is enough to drive Gandhi to at least considering the benefits of getting all stabbity on people's asses.

I suspect there may be more rants in the offing. In the meantime, please use "decimated" appropriately and govern yourselves accordingly.

Remember, I know where you live. Or, well, no I don't. But I know where I live and that has to count for something.

What the h e double hockey sticks were you: doing up at 4:18? Somehow i thought you were done with night shifts..obviously my brain is decimated!
Nice to see you back in top form lady :)
I blame the news. Whenever someone says 'decimated' around me, I *ask* if they meant 1 out of 10. Because I'm annoyingly precise that way.
Perhaps a great ending for that book would be a pair of cement shoes and a long walk on a short dock....

Just sayin'
I hate bad writing! I've been known to put down a book and decide not to get it based on the first sentence. Once, some friends of mine eagerly handed me a novel that a friend of theirs had "self published" (translation: printed out on their home PC/printer). I had just gotten an MFA in fiction writing and they really wanted my opinion. I read the first sentence and declared that the book couldn't be any good because it began with a dependent clause and refused to read any further.
A woman after my own heart! I hate people who use $5.00 words incorrectly. I read a paper the other day in which someone used "verified" when he meant "vilified". Aaarrrggghhh!!!
funny (1)
I've been irked by that usage too. But my Random House/Webster dictionary says that in the 19th century the word was given the meaning used by the author you cite, "to destroy a great number or proportion of." This is listed before the traditional 10% one.

Language, usage and punctuation rules evolve and not always the way I think they should, either.
You do that, too? I'm glad to know that someone else can't stand to see "decimated" misused. It is an excellent word, but it doesn't mean what most people think it does. Makes me nuts. I'd agree with you, and Dorothy Parker: "This is not a book to be tossed aside lightly. It should be thrown with great force."
What I truly hate is when a book's writing is so bad (or so pretentious) that all I can think about is the writing -- it's terminally distracting and destroys what might have been a minimally interesting plot. Return the book.
By some stgrange coincidence, that is a word whose misuse bugs me too. Sencond only to "at this point in time" - what's wrong with NOW?
Yay, I love your rants :) And yup Freeze Frame on any sort of loop never mind 5 months would send Gandhi rabid.
Yes, ma'am, I promise to use decimated carefully. Wonderful thing about the library and its books, they can be returned without any sales clerk hassle.
If a book is good, it's shortcomings usually are ignored; but when it's bad, all the mistakes LOOM LARGE. Laura in Virginia
Can't wait to hear more rants, I don't think I have ever heard anyone use language so creatively. You go girl!
I detest the misuse of decimate. It always feels like nails on a chalkboard the way the poor word is abused.
I had no clue about decimate. Methinks you are a genius.

5 months. wow. I'm so glad you're back.

I wonder how many readers googled the D word after reading your post. I am bothered when people refer to a mute point rather than a moot one.
I want to thank you for two things: First, you saved me from reading a book that uses the wrong words. Second, you gave me a new word to describe my coteacher. Trout-biscuit is now what she will be referred to whenever she royally pisses me off.

DF agrees :oP
I hadn't known what decimated meant, but I haven't used it either. This is why I love the library. I haven't wasted money on crummy books. Just time. And while time is valuable, throwing away money on crap really pisses me off.
I really need to go back to reading the dictionary. I didn't know the meaning, but I'm glad I do now, so I can use the word appropriately.

Thanks for your lessons!
once, when i'd had a song stuck in my head for a couple of hours, i asked a professional singer/choir colleague what he did when one stuck on his mental jukebox. his response:

"i kick the jukebox."

works for me . . . though it works best if i substitute a simple song in a foreign language. my brain doesn't play with the words. it gets bored and turns the juke off entirely.


and i'm w/you on decimated.

trout {gasp} biscuit...

Ahem. Just thought you should know that my Oxford Dictionary of Current English describes "decimate" as 1. destroy a large proportion of. 2. (orig. Rom. Hist.) kill or remove one in every ten of.

Then there is a little side note that says "Usage Sense 1 is now the usual sense, but it is considered inappropriate by some people. This word should not be used to mean 'defeat utterly'".

So if she used it to mean the house was entirely gone, it was the wrong usage. If she used it to mean the house was mostly gone, it's accepted in this day and age.

Don't worry, I'm just as anal about these things. And usually I BUY the books, so I can't return them when the words make me mad!
You react to decimate the way I react to the misuse of the word disinterest. There is an enormous difference between lack of interest and disinterested, which is having no stake in a transaction. Yet misuse of that word will eventually result in the loss of its meaning, and we have no substitute for disinterested, which we have lots of substitutes for uninterested.
And thanks for educating me on decimate.
You should have ripped out every 10th page before returning it to the library. Sounds like prosaic justice to me. (Wait. I didn't say that...I am strenuously opposed to decimating books. Seriously.)
I'm with you on this one, babe. We have a utility here at my work for reducing a large data file to a tenth, not BY A TENTH, and when I pointed it out, I got a big ol' shrug.

Can I bug you even more? I had a boyfriend who not only declared things a "mute point," but also opined that there was "no use chasing a dead horse." I'm thinking a dead horse isn't going to run far...

(steam coming out of my ears)
1. Had to wait to comment until the tea I sprayed on my laptop had dried; 2. Couldn't agree with you more, and although the husband frequently uses the "language is plastic and changing" argument, I'm with you. Seems to me it's people attempting to look more erudite than they are, using words that way, and that's pompous. I just saw a new one that caused me to spew a blast of words that would've shocked the person to whom I was talking (on the phone) - fortunately she had already hung up. She said (and I quote) "Don't worry, I'll just 'E' you about it." She used "E" as a VERB. Has it ocme to that?
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