Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Word of the day: “attritely”

A note to the attrition community

The original sense of attrition is that of traditional Church terminology:

sorrow for one’s sins that arises from a motive considered lower than that of the love of God (as a fear of punishment or a sense of shame) : imperfect contrition
-- Webster’s Third New International Dictionary (i.e., “Webster’s Unabridged”)

It is certainly a word for our times, an age from which genuine contrition has largely disappeared;  indeed, even the lower standard of “sense of shame” becomes harder and harder to find, unless the culprit is actually caught before the rolling TV cameras, in which case you might see, if not any actual sense of shame, at least shame-in-a-sense -- sham shame.  (Among the linguistic reflexes of this fact  is the “non-apology apology”.)    Someone who feels contrition is contrite;  if merely attrition, attrite  (“A man in confession, of attrite  is made contrite  by virtue of the keys” -- 1625, cited in the OED).   If you say something in an attrite way, you say it attritely.

Which brings us to our hot newsflash of the day!
As of even date, the only site on the entire Web that actually uses the word attritely (as opposed to simply sticking in into an alphabetical list, or calling it “rare”), and uses it correctly (there’s one weird quote that is probably a solecism or a typo), is this one:

You’ll find it in the “Mailbag” column, second letter down.

And for Murphy’s own approach to attrition, click here:

[Update 31 Dec 2011]
In addition to our era's characteristic non-apology apology ("I apologize for doing X, though there was nothing wrong with it and anyhow it isn't my fault"), there are apologies that had better gone unsaid:,0,4642116.photogallery

[Update 22 Mar 2012]  A good op-ed on the subject, with recent examples:

Cf. also this:

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