Essay: Of Words That Ravage, Pillage, Spoil

When the Federal Government launched a program last fall to gas chickens—more than 7 million so far—in an effort to contain an influenza virus in Pennsylvania, it said it had "depopulated" the birds. "We use that terrible word depopulation to avoid saying slaughter," explained a federal information officer, David Goodman.

Actually, it is not a terrible word but a rather distinguished one, derived from the Latin depopulare and meaning, according to the Oxford English Dictionary, "to lay waste, ravage, pillage, spoil." Shakespeare used it in Coriolanus when he had the tribune Sicinius ask,...

Want the full story?

Subscribe Now

Subscribe
Subscribe

Get TIME the way you want it

  • One Week Digital Pass — $4.99
  • Monthly Pay-As-You-Go DIGITAL ACCESS$2.99
  • One Year ALL ACCESSJust $30!   Best Deal!
    Print Magazine + Digital Edition + Subscriber-only Content on TIME.com

Learn more about the benefits of being a TIME subscriber

If you are already a subscriber sign up — registration is free!