An assistant news editor learns the dictionary definition of decimate. And so does the copy desk.)
I learned recently that this word does not mean what I thought it did.But in the process, readers discover some of the hardships of life on the rim.
Had I been paying a bit more attention in Magistra Vernon's ninth-grade Latin class, I would have known that "decimate" comes from the word "decimatus," meaning the killing of every 10th person, a punishment used in the Roman army for mutinous legions.
The Centre Daily Times used this word in a headline recently to refer to the effect of the Abu Ghraib prison scandal on the U.S. military. The torture at the Iraqi prison may have undermined the credibility of the Army, but obviously, the scandal has not killed every 10th U.S. soldier.
A reader may never know, for example, that in one story, a reporter had misidentified a local township supervisor, had credited Kurt Vonnegut with writing "Catch-22" and had misspelled "misspelled." Each of those mistakes was caught by a vigilant copy editor who that same night also had to lay out five pages and write a headline for a story about the governor of California without using the name of the actor-turned-politician because "Schwarzenegger" wouldn't fit on one line.