Decimate Your Darlings

Fiiiiiiine. I’ll acknowledge the existence of semantic drift. To the great distress of pedants everywhere (a much more tedious performance group than Improv Everywhere)—who are, of course, conservative—the meanings of words can change over time, generally because a sufficient quantity of philistines start using them wrong, and ultimately receive some sort of official sanction.

It seems that ‘decimate’, the darling nit of many a nitpicker, is off the nit list. No longer may you chide your prey with “…well, actually, decimate means to take the tenth part.”

The number one definition offered by the Oxford Dictionaries is “Kill, destroy, or remove a large percentage or part of.”

So there.

But what is legitimate might still be trite. As a test, I searched Google for “Dawn of the Planet of the Apes” + decimate. (It was probably reading a review, or the tenth review, of this movie that had the word rattling around in my head at all.) 37,800 results returned. What does that mean?

Maybe decimate is just the simplest term available to describe a key plot point—the virus decimated the human population (spoiler!). So, any review would almost have to include it, much as anyone reviewing War of the Worlds would employ the phrase “aliens invaded” or risk riding into the purple prose.

And yet, in this context, decimate still feels like a high-dollar word willfully misused, like ordering Grey Goose in your mangotini because you saw everyone else at Sandals do the same.

Why are 10,000 people writing about the same thing in the same way? Or rather, to what end? That is the question. Perhaps in this age of vast availability and content bloat, it’s time to decimate the ranks of writers.

Sample, and consider:

In “Rise,” corporate greed and the abuse of animals not only results in the creation of a population of super-intelligent apes that will one day rule the planet, but also a deadly virus that speeds up that transition by utterly decimating the human population (it’s the so-called “simian flu” that’s mentioned prominently in “Dawn”).

What ‘Dawn of the Planet of the Apes’ says about war

Ten years from the events of Rise of the Planet of the Apes, which saw humanity decimated by the airborne virus ALZ-113, otherwise known as the ‘Simian Flu’, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes finds the human survivors of the outbreak attempting to continue with their lives in an enclave separated from the ape civilization, which has evolved at alarming speed – even learning to speak English.

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes (2014) Cinema Movie Review

The simian virus that James Franco concocted in the last film has enhanced the ape brain but near-decimated the human population.

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes (Rolling Stone)

In the intervening years between the two films, the simian flu built in Will Rodman’s (James Franco) lab in Rise… has decimated mankind with only a few immune to its devastation.

Dawn Of The Planet Of The Apes

Red lines in the opening credits of the 2014’s “Dawn” map a pandemic that decimated humanity.

‘Dawn of the Planet of the Apes’: Guns and tongues for apes on screen

I’m suffering from dystopian-future fatigue. After the Hunger Games films and Divergent, The Walking Dead and Elysium, Oblivion and the latest X-Men movie, I’ve had enough of decimated and decaying urban landscapes and stratified class systems and alien or robotic overlords.

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes Isn’t Monkeying Around (Sorry)

And with it, our first glimpse at what Caesar (Andy Serkis) has been up to in the 10 years since the Simian Plague decimated most of Earth’s human population.

‘Dawn Of The Planet Of The Apes’: An Exclusive Look Inside The Stunning Ape Village

“Dawn of the Planet of the Apes,” set a decade after humanity and its power supply are nearly decimated, portrays the difficulty of rebuilding civilization without software.

Star Apps: ‘Dawn of the Planet of the Apes’

A simian flu has decimated humankind.

Film Review: Smart, Powerful ‘Dawn of the Planet of the Apes’ (WSJ)

Points for brevity.

The human population has been decimated by the strain of Simian Flu created in the film’s predecessor, Rise Of The Planet Of The Apes.

Natalie Stendall’s Film Review: Dawn of the Planet of the Apes

Civilization has been decimated and everything is in ruins.

Movie Review: Dawn of the Planet of the Apes

“Dawn of the Planet of the Apes”, released in the UK and Ireland this week, continues the story that film began, as Caesar faces fresh threats to his family and tribe from a band of survivors of a deadly pandemic that has decimated the earth’s human population.

‘Give that ape an Oscar!’

“Dawn of the Planet of the Apes,” the follow-up to the 2011 reboot “Rise of the Planet of the Apes,” is set a decade after the simian virus decimated the vast majority of the humans.

‘Dawn of the Planet of the Apes’ is a riveting thriller: 3.5 stars

A virus has decimated the population, while chaos and the human element has annihilated the rest.

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes Is Spectacular!

Oh, bravo, Jonathan Pritzlaff. I salute your old-school precision.

Just in case you haven’t seen the movie, I’ll toss my opinion onto the pile and tell you that Dawn of the Planet of the Apes is good. And just maybe, the vast popularity of this spectacle of humanity’s decimation will dissuade our social media aspirants from saying ‘viral’ like it’s a good thing.

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