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From Huffington Post to Hatebreed, Sloppy Use of ‘Decimate’ Signals Continued Debasement of English Language

From Huffington Post to Hatebreed, Sloppy Use of ‘Decimate’ Signals Continued Debasement of English Language
June 12
14:33 2014

Apparently, throwing words around based on their general meanings is fine, not just for country bumpkins, but for media mogul blunderers like the Huffington Post. In a recent article, the headline reads: “Anderson Cooper Decimates GOP Rep’s Anti-Gay Argument”.

Because of the sustained sloppiness and vague usage of words, decimate’s umbrella definition means to “destroy a large portion of something.” Historically, decimate means to destroy one-tenth, or one in every ten. Deci- should be the distinct prefix that tips off a writer as when to use that word, and when to choose a different word, like ‘undermine’ or ‘challenge’.

The beauty of language, not to mention the utility of it, is founded on the ability of the majority of people who use it, to use it specifically, with care and deep understanding. Language and communication skills can really be improved and fostered for a lifetime.

You can fight a battle by flinging all kinds of objects at your enemy. You could throw your toaster oven at them. You could hurl a kitchen knife. Then you could sling a vase. All of these things could potentially harm your opponent, but what you really need is the right kind of weapon if you want to effectively fight the battle. Like a gun. Not any gun. Not a shotgun. Not a puny rifle. Maybe an automatic rifle. An M16A4. Because it uses lighter ammunition than an M14. It depends on your goal, on your enemy, on the climate and situation you’re battling in.

Maybe, if you’re Bowe Bergdahl, you say ‘Fuck it, I’m not fighting a war for global banks and hidden elite agendas.’ But that’s a different story.

Words and language need that kind of specificity. Using ‘decimates’ like the HPost did, and does, is not dissimilar from hurling kitchen appliances at your enemy in the battle field. A mainstream news writer should explore her entire arsenal of words first and arm her sentences or headlines with the most effective.

In the example above, ‘decimates’ generally gets the point across to the reader that Cooper did some sort of destroying of the other man’s argument, yet there are dozens of words that can fulfill this purpose far more meaningfully and precisely. What kind of logical dismantling did the silver fox do? What does it mean to destroy an argument anyway? Or a large portion of it?

But where is the backlash from the language Nazis? Just two years ago the death metal band Hatebreed sloppily used the word ‘decimated’, and they paid dearly for it as one of their biggest fans took to the blogosphere to chastise their sub-par lyrics. That is integrity I like to see in the world.

Lastly, I must say it’s not entirely the fault of the Huffington Post for having under-par writers and bankrupted arguments. They do not have an educated readership by which they are consistently challenged. No person is beyond making a mistake. Thankfully I have my belligerent (if not little understood) North Korean audience to keep me in line on nearly every article.

…editor Adam Michael Luebke 



July 3, 2012

Who would have thought metal fans would be so particular when it came to lyrics from their favorite hardcore, death metal bands? One man is out to keep metal bands honest with their lyrics, and force them to make proper, thoughtful choices with each word in every song. Particularly, he’s set his sights on an American hardcore band called Hatebreed. The man’s name is Jeff Sedgewick, and his story starts with a car accident in May 2006, which left him in a coma until the beginning of June 2012.

“I couldn’t wait for that fucking album to come out,” Sedgewick says, speaking about Hatebreed’s fourth full-length album, Supremacy, which was released in August, 2006, just months after Sedgewick’s car wreck and subsequent coma that would keep him asleep from the world around him and, more particularly, deprived of the fast-forging metal scene.

“When I woke up in the hospital in June, the first thing I asked was, ‘What day is it?’” Sedgewick recalls, “and the next question was, ‘How many Hatebreed albums have I missed?’” He was both happy and depressed that he’d missed three. He was also relieved to know the band was still strong as ever.

But then, a bad thing happened. Sedgewick began listening to the first of the three — Supremacy. “Everything was real fucking cool, and I was bobbing my head to the music, kind of growling along with Jasta [Hatebreed frontman], when I came to song six.” The doctors has just warned Sedgewick to calm down, since his brain was still adjusting to being conscious again.

Song six is called “Destroy Everything”. Sedgewick said he was cool with it for a few seconds. He sings the lyrics, remembering the lines perfectly, even though he has not, and never will again, listen to that song, or record. “Destroy everything,” he sings, “destroy everything,” and again, “destroy everything,” he sings. “Obliterate what makes us weak. Destroy everything!” he sings three more times, until he starts shaking his head and gets a violent look on his face.

The next line he refuses: “Decimate what threatens me.” For ninety-nine point nine, nine percent of metalheads, or music fans, or even human beings in general, that line wouldn’t seem out of the ordinary for a song lyric (except that maybe it’s a mediocre one, but this world is accosted every second by bad lyrics and lines). What’s Sedewick’s beef?

“Come on, man,” he says. “That’s the sloppiest fucking way to use the word ‘decimate’. It’s not supposed to mean wipe out everything. But in the context of the song, that word is used as an alternate line to destroying everything. Jasta screams and uses the word decimate instead. Historically, it’s all wrong.”

Sedgewick goes on to quote from the Oxford English Dictionary, the true and proper use of the word. “Decimate,” he says from memory, “means kill one in every ten.” He admits there are less strict definitions of the word, such as ‘killing or destroying a large portion of something’.

“I’m talking about going the whole extra mile,” he retorts. “I’m talking about serious craftsmanship. Not sloppy lyrics. Is Jasta going to destroy ten percent of what threatens him? Is that what he means?”

Sedgewick claims he’s not the only one upset about this. Metal blogs that are worth their salt are up in arms about Hatebreed’s piss poor use of that word.

Sedgewick has not listened to Hatebreed since that fateful afternoon only one month ago. “I’ve written to the band, I’ve done record reviews. I can’t believe so few metalheads have caught this unforgiveable fucking error.”


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  1. Literary Rake
    Literary Rake June 12, 15:12

    Some would argue that language is ineluctably evolving. They would maintain that the current meaning of a word need not always be dictated by its roots. Personally I fear that if language changes too much we run the risk of exchanging substance, history and precision for euphemism, subtext and popular culture.

    Reply to this comment
    • DDA
      DDA Author June 12, 15:48

      What a thoughtful response. I would also argue that language has no choice but to evolve. What worries me is the constant slurring and sloppiness of language (in my own writing and speaking as well), until we realize we are talking like characters in the movie Idiocracy. All words vague and used interchangeably without any deeper understanding as to what they really mean, and why they are potent in some situations and not others. I think you’re correct, gentle commenter, as I share the same concern about a world of Twitter hashtag styled language. Vague. Lack of substance. Easily misunderstood with lack of clarity. Popular cultural references used often to convey personal meaning….

      Reply to this comment
  2. Literary Rake
    Literary Rake June 13, 12:03

    I agree, dear editor, and would add only that this is symptomatic of the consumer culture we live in. Mass media effectively refracts and filters our language such that we are numbed. We simply take in and disseminate the remixed “product.” We don’t know how to mobilize language to innovate. Sadly, we’re programmed to consume and be consumed.

    Reply to this comment

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