[uh-trish-uh n]


a reduction or decrease in numbers, size, or strength: Our club has had a high rate of attrition because so many members have moved away.
a wearing down or weakening of resistance, especially as a result of continuous pressure or harassment: The enemy surrounded the town and conducted a war of attrition.
a gradual reduction in work force without firing of personnel, as when workers resign or retire and are not replaced.
the act of rubbing against something; friction.
a wearing down or away by friction; abrasion.
Theology. imperfect contrition.See under contrition(def 2).

Origin of attrition

1325–75; Middle English < Latin attrītiōn- (stem of attrītiō) friction. See attrite, -ion
Related formsat·tri·tion·al, adjectiveat·tri·tive [uh-trahy-tiv] /əˈtraɪ tɪv/, adjectivein·ter·at·tri·tion, noun Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2019

Examples from the Web for attrition

Contemporary Examples of attrition

Historical Examples of attrition

  • They have not the attrition which wears away the angularities.

    Ireland as It Is

    Robert John Buckley (AKA R.J.B.)

  • Nothing has done us more harm than all this talk about "attrition."

  • The difficulty was to overcome its susceptibility to attrition.

    Mizora: A Prophecy

    Mary E. Bradley

  • I say that attrition with confession is necessary: he believes that contrition is necessary.


    John Tulloch

  • In what was to a great extent a war of attrition this was a point of some importance.

British Dictionary definitions for attrition



the act of wearing away or the state of being worn away, as by friction
constant wearing down to weaken or destroy (often in the phrase war of attrition)
Also called: natural wastage a decrease in the size of the workforce of an organization achieved by not replacing employees who retire or resign
geography the grinding down of rock particles by friction during transportation by water, wind, or iceCompare abrasion (def. 3), corrasion
theol sorrow for sin arising from fear of damnation, esp as contrasted with contrition, which arises purely from love of God
Derived Formsattritional, adjectiveattritive (əˈtraɪtɪv), adjective

Word Origin for attrition

C14: from Late Latin attrītiō a rubbing against something, from Latin atterere to weaken, from terere to rub
Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 2012 Digital Edition © William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd. 1979, 1986 © HarperCollins Publishers 1998, 2000, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009, 2012

Word Origin and History for attrition

1540s, "abrasion, a scraping," from Latin attritionem (nominative attritio), literally "a rubbing against," noun of action from past participle stem of atterere "to wear, rub away," figuratively "to destroy, waste," from ad- "to" (see ad-) + terere "to rub" (see throw (v.)). The earliest sense in English is from Scholastic theology (late 14c.), "sorrow for sin merely out of fear of punishment," a minor irritation, and thus less than contrition. The sense of "wearing down of military strength" is a World War I coinage (1914). Figurative use by 1930.

Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper

attrition in Medicine




A wearing away by friction or rubbing, such as the loss of tooth structure caused by abrasive foods or grinding of the teeth.
The American Heritage® Stedman's Medical Dictionary Copyright © 2002, 2001, 1995 by Houghton Mifflin Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Company.