1540s, "abrasion, a scraping," from L. attritionem
), lit. "a rubbing against," noun of action from attritus
pp. of atterere
"to wear, rub away," from ad-
"to" + terere
"to rub" (see throw
). The earliest sense in Eng. 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 an enemy's strength" is a World War I coinage (1914).