at·​tri·​tion | \ ə-ˈtri-shən How to pronounce attrition (audio) , a- \

Essential Meaning of attrition

1 chiefly US : a reduction in the number of employees or participants that occurs when people leave because they resign, retire, etc., and are not replaced The staff has been thinned through attrition. [=the staff has become smaller because people have left] Attrition is high among social workers because of the difficult work and poor pay. a growing attrition rate = a growing rate of attrition
2 : the act or process of weakening and gradually defeating an enemy through constant attacks and continued pressure over a long period of time

Full Definition of attrition

1 [Middle English attricioun, from Medieval Latin, attrition-, attritio, from Latin] : sorrow for one's sins that arises from a motive other than that of the love of God
2 : the act of rubbing together : friction also : the act of wearing or grinding down by friction Stones can be smoothed and polished by attrition.
3 : the act of weakening or exhausting by constant harassment, abuse, or attack a war of attrition
4 : a reduction in numbers usually as a result of resignation, retirement, or death a company with a high rate of attrition

Other Words from attrition

attritional \ ə-​ˈtri-​sh(ə-​)nᵊl How to pronounce attrition (audio) , a-​ \ adjective

Synonyms & Antonyms for attrition



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Word History of Attrition

The earliest meaning of the English attrition related to spiritual repentance was borrowed from the figurative meaning of the medieval Latin etymon attritio: "hardship, tribulation." This figurative meaning stemmed from the earlier uses of attritio that refer to bruising or wearing away by rubbing—two processes that, when applied to the body, can feel like tribulation. One obsolete and early use of the English attrition referred to the breaking or crushing of tissue, and was used in medical contexts.

The newer senses of attrition are little more than a century old. The common phrase war of attrition refers to a sustained effort to steadily wear down the defenses of an opponent, with the result that they are rendered weaker and less effective. From this sense comes the still-later meaning that refers to a reduction in numbers by a gradual and natural "wearing down" of an organization's ranks through death, retirement, or resignation.

Examples of attrition in a Sentence

His first response was a plan to streamline management, reducing the company's white-collar ranks through attrition. An old-school CEO who had been with Stanley most of his adult life, Davis considered layoffs a last resort. But by the time he stepped down as CEO in 1987, hundreds of factory workers had lost their jobs on his orders. — James Lardner, New York Review of Books, 14 June 2007 Younger operatives are resigning in droves, because they have given up hope of reform. The attrition was sufficient to provoke an investigation by the inspector general in 1996. — Edward G. Shirley, Atlantic, February 1998 This had led the British to look upon these sieges as an opportunity to deplete the German army by the gradual process of attrition. Because by 1917, they had so many cannon and such immense supplies of ammunition, they believed that their attacks could inflict more manpower losses than they themselves would suffer. — Archer Jones, Elements of Military Strategy, 1996 Attrition is high among social workers because of the difficult work and poor pay. took the machinery out of operation since attrition had led to the main mechanism's breaking
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Recent Examples on the Web The Fort Smith agency has one of the larger Section 8 programs in Arkansas, with about 1,500 vouchers and an attrition rate of about 20 to 30 per month, Minnick said. Tess Vrbin, Arkansas Online, 6 Dec. 2021 The city’s attrition rate has gained attention particularly for its impact on the Louisville Metro Police Department and Metro Corrections. Billy Kobin, The Courier-Journal, 2 Dec. 2021 The company’s voluntary attrition rate has fallen slightly to 7 percent this year, even as workers in the United States are quitting jobs at record levels. New York Times, 23 Nov. 2021 That company reported its lowest attrition rate in a decade, Duchene said. Samantha Masunaga, Los Angeles Times, 17 Nov. 2021 Canine Companions’ usual attrition rate for prospective service dogs is 50 percent, and it’s too early to say whether the pandemic will produce fewer dogs ready for the rigors of service. Washington Post, 12 Aug. 2021 Trying to slow attrition and retain your team’s best people? Jena Mcgregor, Forbes, 21 Dec. 2021 The city expects attrition will whittle the number back down to the current levels within a few years. Teri Figueroa, San Diego Union-Tribune, 16 Dec. 2021 City officials are fretting over the perception of rising crime in the city, and attrition within the Police Department continues to be a struggle. al, 16 Dec. 2021

These example sentences are selected automatically from various online news sources to reflect current usage of the word 'attrition.' Views expressed in the examples do not represent the opinion of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback.

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First Known Use of attrition

14th century, in the meaning defined at sense 1

History and Etymology for attrition

Latin attrition-, attritio, from atterere to rub against, from ad- + terere to rub — more at throw entry 1

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Time Traveler for attrition

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The first known use of attrition was in the 14th century

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Dictionary Entries Near attrition



attrition mill

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Last Updated

16 Jan 2022

Cite this Entry

“Attrition.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 23 Jan. 2022.

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More Definitions for attrition


at·​tri·​tion | \ ə-ˈtrish-ən How to pronounce attrition (audio) \

Medical Definition of attrition

: the act of rubbing together also : the act of wearing or grinding down by friction attrition of teeth

Other Words from attrition

attritional \ -​ˈtrish-​nəl, -​ˈtrish-​ən-​ᵊl How to pronounce attrition (audio) \ adjective

More from Merriam-Webster on attrition

Britannica English: Translation of attrition for Arabic Speakers


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