Over here in England’s green and pleasant land, the Government is trying to control bovine tuberculosis by culling badgers, which are a vector for the disease. This is a highly controversial policy, and resistance to it is led by the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (itself a highly controversial and political body, these days). The RSPCA has just been rapped over the knuckles by the Advertising Standards Agency for publishing an advertisement with the headline ‘Vaccinate or Exterminate?‘; this of course is factually untrue as there is no intention to wipe out the species, only control its numbers. According to The Times (which annoyingly is subscription-only online, so you’re going to have to take my word for it), the RSPCA defended the use of the word exterminate by saying that ‘the word was commonly used to mean killing on a massive scale’.
Is it? I honestly don’t believe I’ve ever heard or seen exterminate used in that sense; to my ears the word always carries the clear meaning ‘wipe out, extirpate’. What does everyone else think?