Definition of attrition
- Stones can be smoothed and polished by attrition.
- a war of attrition
- a company with a high rate of attrition
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
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.
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.
: a reduction in the number of employees or participants that occurs when people leave because they resign, retire, etc., and are not replaced
: the act or process of weakening and gradually defeating an enemy through constant attacks and continued pressure over a long period of time
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having a quality expressive of sadness
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