attrition

noun

at·​tri·​tion ə-ˈtri-shən How to pronounce attrition (audio)
a-
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
attritional adjective

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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
Recent Examples on the Web Many Ukrainian men feel caught between the threat of Russia and a grinding war of attrition. Joel Gehrke, Washington Examiner - Political News and Conservative Analysis About Congress, the President, and the Federal Government, 30 June 2024 The two countries increasingly are fighting a war of attrition, firing thousands of artillery shells, missiles and rockets every day. Democrat-Gazette Staff From Wire Reports, arkansasonline.com, 21 June 2024 In a war of attrition that has seen huge loss of civilian life, the ISW said much more could be done to reduce Russia’s advantage. Robyn Dixon, Washington Post, 21 June 2024 In sum, Israel’s fast-moving offensive in the fall has given way to a grinding war of attrition that would leave Hamas with the ability to attack Israeli civilians even if the IDF presses ahead with its campaign in southern Gaza. Robert A. Pape, Foreign Affairs, 21 June 2024 See all Example Sentences for attrition 

These examples are programmatically compiled from various online sources to illustrate current usage of the word 'attrition.' Any opinions expressed in the examples do not represent those of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback about these examples.

Word History

Etymology

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

First Known Use

14th century, in the meaning defined at sense 1

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

Dictionary Entries Near attrition

Cite this Entry

“Attrition.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/attrition. Accessed 16 Jul. 2024.

Kids Definition

attrition

noun
at·​tri·​tion ə-ˈtrish-ən How to pronounce attrition (audio)
a-
1
: the act of wearing down by or as if by friction
2
: a reduction in numbers usually as a result of resignation, retirement, or death

Medical Definition

attrition

noun
at·​tri·​tion ə-ˈtrish-ən How to pronounce attrition (audio)
: the act of rubbing together
also : the act of wearing or grinding down by friction
attrition of teeth
attritional adjective

More from Merriam-Webster on attrition

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