What decimate really means

If you are reading this from your underground doomsday bunker, I thank you for taking the time from your end-of-the-world preparations to read my humble blog. Yes, today is the day some people decided the ancient Mayans predicted would be the end of the world. So, in the spirit of all things apocalyptic, I thought we should talk about epic disasters—more specifically, the word decimate.

What do you think when you hear the word decimate? Bridge-swallowing earthquakes? Nuclear wastelands? Robot overlords?

Decimate has come to mean near-total destruction, but that’s not the technical definition of the word. Decimate comes from the Latin word decem, which means ten. Thus, decimate means to reduce something by a tenth. Merriam-Webster lists the first definition of decimate as: “to select by lot and kill every tenth man of.”

Destroying a tenth of something is still some serious carnage, but I doubt it matches the type of destruction most people now identify with the word. However, that’s okay. The meaning has changed over time, where it now can mean anything from a storm knocking down every tenth tree to robot overlords exterminating all of humankind.

And just in case this is my last post, I’ll leave you with this—an introduction to your new leaders. Good luck in the apocalypse, suckers.

180 Degrees? 360 Degrees? Where Are We Again?

Sometimes people use the terms 180 degrees and 360 degrees to explain situations in a person’s life. This comes from the idea of a circle, which has 360 degrees. However, it is a common error to use 360 degrees when one means 180 degrees.

If you want to explain that a situation is opposite from what it was, use 180 degrees because this indicates a half circle (or think of it as a half turn, where you are standing in the opposite direction as you were from the start).

Example: Steve really cleaned up his act. Now he never misses class and he does all his homework. He’s really gone 180 degrees.

If you want to explain that a situation is back to its original state, use 360 degrees. Think again of the circle. If one goes 360 degrees, one makes an entire circle, or turn, and is back in the original position.

Example: Steve is back to his old ways. He skips class and doesn’t turn in his homework. He’s really gone 360 degrees.

Fill in either 180 or 360 in the blanks below. The answers are at the bottom.

1. Martha has made a _______-degree turn in her life. She has lost 400 pounds, has stopped eating junk food, and exercises daily.
2. Zelda didn’t learn from her mistakes. She has gone _______ degrees.
3. Martin made a _______. He’s back to huffing glue and listening to that darn rock and roll music.
4. Chloe has stopped beating up her little sister and setting the house on fire. Now she even helps old ladies cross the street. She has really gone _______ degrees.

1) 180 2) 360 3) 360 4) 180

Erin Servais is a freelance copywriter and copy editor at Dot and Dash. LLC. She writes articles and email blasts; she edits books and websites. To learn how to hire her for your next project, go to: dotanddashllc.com.

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trooper vs. trouper

What a trooper!

Does this phrase look correct to you? It’s okay if it does because using trooper instead of the correct word is a very common mix-up.

In the phrase above, you should use trouper instead of trooper.

A trouper is a person who is a member of a troupe (a group of performers, such as actors). A trooper is a soldier (a member of a group of troops), a police officer (such as a state trooper), or a person in a similar category of jobs.

We use trouper in the phrase above and similar phrases (such as he is such a trouper) when we refer to a person who has overcome obstacles. The popular phrase the show must go on comes from the idea that even if bad things happen (a piece of the set breaks or an actor has a sore throat), the troupe must continue with the show—lest they be pelted with tomatoes coming from angry audience members.

When you refer to someone as a trouper, you are giving him or her a compliment and saying in short that even though the s/he has had bad things happen, s/he has continued on and worked to overcome the obstacles. The show must go on.

A student who has a bad cold and still shows up to take the big test is a trouper.

A runner who stubs his toe in the middle of a marathon and keeps running is a trouper.

A dancer who falls in the middle of her big solo and continues on with the routine is a trouper.

A person who is fighting a serious illness is a trouper.

Blame it on the French
One reason for the trooper and trouper confusion is because both words come from the same root word, troupe. The Middle French language gave us the word troupe, which then meant a band of people. In the 1540s, English got troop (and thus trooper) from this word, adapting it to mean a body of soldiers. Then, in the 1820s, we began using troupe in English to mean a group of performers, a member of which is a trouper.

*I got this etymology information from a website I absolutely love, called Online Etymology Dictionary. If you ever are interested in learning the history of a word, I encourage you to visit this site for a thorough and easy-to-understand explanation.

Erin Servais will be a tireless trouper to help you reach your book publishing goals. Learn how to hire her at: dotanddashllc.com

nadir vs. zenith

nadir: 1. the point of the celestial sphere that is directly opposite the zenith and vertically downward from the observer; 2. the lowest point

zenith: 1. the point of the celestial sphere that is directly opposite the nadir and vertically above the observer; 2. the highest point reached in the heavens by a celestial body; 3. culminating point

For the purpose of our discussion today, we will focus on definition 2 for nadir and definition 3 for zenith. I imagine if you are an astronomical enthusiast, you are familiar with the celestial definitions of these words, so we are going to talk about their usage in nonscientific speech.

To put it simply, nadir means the very bottom/worst of something, and zenith means the very top/best of something. In everyday conversation, these words usually relate to an experience. For instance, if you are discussing your career, the zenith may be when you entered the role of company vice president (best point). The nadir may be when you were fired after thirty years of work (worst point).

Here are more examples:

The nadir of Earl’s figure skating was when he broke his pelvis during a failed triple axel.
The zenith of Earl’s figure skating was when he qualified for the Olympics.

The nadir of Betty’s cupcake business was when she accidentally poisoned thirty customers.
The zenith of Betty’s cupcake business was when she won the “best dessert in the city” award.

Test your understanding with this quiz. Fill in either nadir or zenith in the blanks below. The answers are at the bottom.

1. Frank felt he reached his _______ when the famous artist wanted to paint his portrait.
2. Tracy was sure her life hit its _______ when the rabid dog ate off her foot.
3. The _______ of Harriet’s competitive eating career was when she broke the record for most hot dogs consumed in twenty minutes.
4. The _______ of Cindy’s movie-going pastime was when she paid nine dollars to see the film Murderous Sea Creatures from the Deep IV, which was rated only one star.

Answers: 1. zenith 2. nadir 3. zenith 4. nadir

For all I care . . .


Which is correct: could care less or couldn’t care less?

Let’s look at an example sentence:

The rebellious Sally could/couldn’t care less that she got her fiftieth detention.

Answer: couldn’t care less

If detentions truly don’t bother the rebellious Sally, then she couldn’t care less that she got another one. If she could care less, then it’s implying that she has a current level of caring that could be lowered.

When explaining that a level of caring equals zero, say couldn’t care less.

Here are more example sentences:

Danny couldn’t care less that he got a twenty-dollar parking ticket because he’s a millionaire.

The alien couldn’t care less that he was blind in one eye because he has thirty other eyes.

Sammy couldn’t care less that Fanny lost her Morrissey album because he hates Morrissey.