Tribotools? Tribocleansers? Triboapparel?

Michael Anderson | TLT President's Report September 2017

This important prefix to our industry might soon be used in everyday words.

At a meeting in July held at Argonne National Laboratory and hosted by STLE Immediate Past President Dr. Ali Erdemir, a group of tribologists gathered to discuss projects, applications and ongoing research related to tribology.

TO QUOTE WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE, “A rose by any other name would smell as sweet.” But what makes up a word is important to its meaning. I would like to discuss a certain grammatical addition to a word called a prefix. The dictionary defines prefix as a letter or group of letters added to the beginning of a word to make a new word or alter the meaning of a word. A common prefix such as re means again or new—such as redo and remake—and can be a noun or a verb. Un means to reverse or not, such as undo, untie or unhappy. And a means the opposite, such as asymmetric. There are many prefixes in the English language. Today there is a common prefix used in our industry, and that is the word tribo.

At a recent meeting held at Argonne National Laboratory, hosted by STLE Immediate Past President Dr. Ali Erdemir, a group of tribologists located in the Midwest gathered to discuss projects, applications and ongoing research related to tribology. In the presentations, I kept noticing the persistent use of the prefix tribo. In this case, the addition of the prefix tribo is used to describe a subset or specification of the root word as it relates to tribology. 

During the discussions, I kept writing down more and more words that these tribologists spoke that began with this prefix. For example, tribosystem, triboscience, triboelement, tribosurface, tribolayer, tribofilm, tribobiology, tribogenome, tribocorrosion, tribodelamination, tribocoupling and so on. It seems our industry has adopted a free use of tribo-this and tribo-that, but always having an important use within our industry.

And is there any difference using a prefix with the word tribology? What is the difference between tribobiology and biotribology? I suspect there is a difference. Tribobiology, to me, is the part of biology (the root word) that pertains to tribological activity and is studied by biologists. Biotribology is that part of tribology that pertains to issues in biological motions and studied by tribologists.

I suspect that soon everyday items will be renamed with our beloved prefix, tribo, as it rapidly gains popularity. For example, household items such as kitchen cleaners, toothpaste and metal cleaners, which typically have fine abrasives in them, could soon be referred to as tribocleansers. Items found in our garage such as drills, planers and sanders that facilitate material removal will soon be known as tribotools. Could a back scratcher become known as a tribosoother? And anything we can’t characterize will be known as triboaccessories. Soon household oils will be tribofluids; those used for cooking to prevent sticking, such as olive oil, will be triboculinary liquids. In fact, notice that a couple of the tribologists in the above picture are wearing triboapparel. This tribo concept could be limitless.

The point is that our industry, like many others, has developed words that accurately describe a condition but are only meaningful to people in that industry. Nevertheless, we use them regularly. I hope you can appreciate the triboessence of this article. Tribology is becoming recognized more and more every day. Spread the word! 

Mike Anderson is Area Manager Asia Pacific/Latin America for Falex Corp. in Sugar Grove, Ill. You can reach him at