- destruct1. This is a back-formation from destruction, formed as a specific alternative to destroy to denote a calculated action, originally with reference to malfunctioning space missiles, then in other military or related contexts, and later in figurative uses. The normal past tense is destructed. Like all so-called ‘ergative’ verbs, it can be used transitively (with an object) and intransitively (without an object):
• At this point it was destroyed (or ‘destructed’ as the official explanation puts it) by remote control —Times, 1958
• This was the prevalent left view until Thatcher's third term destructed, and Labour triumphalism had one last go —New Statesman, 1992.It is also used as a noun, normally in attributive position (before another noun), as in destruct system.2. The reflexive form self-destruct appeared in the late 1960s, in North America, and follows the same grammatical functions of destruct. Its figurative uses have developed on both sides of the Atlantic to such an extent that this is now by far the most common use of the word, occurring typically in sports reports (defeated teams, failing managers, and so on) and political commentary:
• His country's presidency in the EU has self-destructed and yet we are expected to see him steer EU policy for the next six months —Times, 2003.
Modern English usage. 2014.