I was listening to something on YouTube where a speaker said: "That is going to require those who are older now in places of power, to be no longer there. And that will happen through an attrition of retirement and death". Which phrase is correct:

. . .through an attrition of retirement. . .


. . .through an attrition and retirement. . .

It seems to me that the words “attrition” and “retirement” are synonyms.

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    Can you give us the link to the YouTube video? – phenry Jun 27 '14 at 17:02
  • I think what the speaker means is attrition caused by retirement. Was this perhaps an interview? You should not expect perfect clarity from people discussing complex thoughts off the cuff. – StoneyB on hiatus Jun 27 '14 at 17:03
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    @Rushn, I think "attrition" is uncountable. Hence, "an attrition" would be incorrect. "An attrition program" would be fine. – Nico Jun 27 '14 at 17:18
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    youtube.com/watch?v=QEx36xk-S6s scroll forward to 14.24(time line) – Rushn Jun 27 '14 at 17:24
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    @phenry youtube.com/watch?v=QEx36xk-S6s scroll forward to 14.24(time line) – Rushn Jun 27 '14 at 17:32

"Attrition of retirement and death" is almost certainly not correct. In the context given, retirement and death would both be mechanisms through which attrition can be achieved. Without hearing the video myself, I would guess that the speaker said or meant something like "That will happen through attrition, meaning retirement and death" (or possibly "retirement or death").

edit: Now that I've heard it, the speaker does clearly say "through an attrition of retirement and death," but he also inserts pauses—a long one after "attrition," and a shorter one after "retirement"—that I believe are significant. If we take the pauses as a sort of verbal indicator of implied punctuation, we might write this passage out like this:

That will happen through an attrition: of retirement, and death.

While the wording is still incorrect, this lends credence to the notion that "retirement" and "death" are being presented as two manifestations of the concept of "attrition." Remember that spoken English tends to be less formal than written English, and it's not uncommon for even fluent speakers to be less rigorous about following the rules when speaking.

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  • He clearly said "an attrition of retirement and death".Perhaps he meant "an attrition by retirement and death". An attrition is a new word for me. – Rushn Jun 27 '14 at 17:15

Attrition and retirement are not synonyms. Attrition is a gradual decrease in numbers. Retirement is an act of leaving the workforce, often with a stipend. Retirements are one way that attrition can occur, but not the only way, and the two words are not synonyms.

that will happen through an attrition of retirement and death

means that something (perhaps a mindset change, or change in corporate culture) will happen after the current workforce is replaced, as they either "retire or expire."

I believe the speaker means:

that will happen through an attrition caused by retirement and death

It's not a common use of the preposition of, but it's not unprecedented. For example:

Wow, there are a lot of empty desks in this office. What's going on?
Oh, we've recently been hit with a steady wave of retirements. We'll be hiring replacements soon.

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I wouldn't be surprised if that's what the person actually said, but it isn't exactly correct.

"Attrition" means that the group loses members over time for one reason or another. Difficult schools where lots of students fail out have a "high attrition rate" for example.

In this case, retirement and death are the two reasons the speaker expects attrition to increase. As more people retire and aren't replaced, attrition increases. As older people die and the group shrinks, attrition increases. The result is that through these two processes those currently in power will no longer be there.

Perhaps a better statement would be:

That will happen through attrition by retirement and death.

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I can't comment yet, but the other answers are correct. "Of" is a little unnatural here but the idea is to define the source of the attrition: it will come from retirement and death.

When using unscripted speech as a source material, it's important to remember that there is a distinction between language competency and language performance. Even native speakers do not always speak perfectly elegantly or grammatically--particularly if they're doing something else (cognitive load from thinking about what to say next, distraction, being drunk, commenting on the Internet and not caring how they sound, etc.) So if a phrase seems odd, it's a good idea to see whether it appears elsewhere before deciding to add it to your own language use. If nothing else, this will help you make the mistakes that a native speaker would make :)

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