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tribology (try-BOL-uh-jee, tri-) noun

The study of interacting surfaces in relative motion and associated issues, such as friction, lubrication, and wear.

[From Greek tribos (rubbing), from tribein (to rub).]

See more usage examples of tribology in Vocabulary.com's dictionary.

Usually words are coined on the streets of language, but here is one instance where a word may be considered to have been synthesized in a lab, if there could be such a thing as a word lab. In 1965, a group of lubrication engineers decided they needed a name for what they did and contacted the editors of the Oxford English Dictionary for help. Out of this came the word tribology, suggested by one C.G. Hardie of Magdalen College.

So even though it looks like the perfect word for it, tribology is not the study of tribes. A related term is triboelectricity: electricity generated by friction.

"A car that runs more smoothly is a more desirable car. Bad tribology, on the other hand, can lead to wear, unwanted sticking, or slipping of parts inside a transmission." Ivan Amato; Better Ways to Grease Industry's Wheels; Fortune (New York); Sep 28, 1998.

"He (Sid Broadbent) says that traditional skate design is still rooted in the blades-strapped-to-boots past, so he designed his own skates. It's all rooted in tribology, he explains." Chris Young; The King of Skatetology; The Toronto Star (Canada); Jan 17, 2004.

This week's theme: words that aren't what they appear to be.


The great enemy of clear language is insincerity. -George Orwell, writer (1903-1950)

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