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A massacre is a specific incident which involves the violent killing of many people – and the perpetrating party is perceived as in total control of force while the victimized party is perceived as helpless or innocent. No clear-cut criteria define when a mass killing is a massacre. Public perception during and after the event, and collective assessment of how the circumstances align with given ideas of acceptable use of force, and on how a culture or nation wants to hold an event in collective memory. Massacres have often accompanied the sack of a captured city. For example, Julius Caesar's soldiers massacred the population of Avaricum regardless of age and sex.
The first recorded use in English of the word massacre to label an event is Marlowe's (circa 1600), The massacre at Paris (a reference to the St. Bartholomew's Day massacre). The word ultimately derives from Middle Low German *matskelen meaning to slaughter.
Massacre is also a verb that means to kill (people or, less commonly, animals) in numbers, especially brutally and indiscriminately. The first known use for this meaning was in 1588.
The term is also used metaphorically for events that do not involve deaths, such as the Saturday Night Massacre—the dismissals and resignations of political appointees during Richard Nixon's Watergate scandal.
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