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at·tack (ə-tăk)
Share:
v. at·tacked, at·tack·ing, at·tacks
v. tr.
1. To set upon with violent force.
2. To criticize strongly or in a hostile manner.
3. To start work on with purpose and vigor: attack a problem.
4. To act on in a detrimental way; cause harm to: a disease that attacks the central nervous system; lawn furniture attacked by corrosion.
5. Sports
a. To play (the ball) aggressively, especially by moving toward it rather than by waiting for it to arrive.
b. To move toward (the goal) on an offensive play, as in lacrosse.
c. In volleyball, to hit (the ball) forcefully over the net.
d. To make a sudden, intense effort to pass (a competitor in a race).
v. intr.
1. To make an attack; launch an assault: The enemy attacked during the night.
2. Sports
a. To make a play on offense; attempt to score.
b. To make a sudden, intense effort to pull ahead in a race.
n.
1. The act or an instance of attacking; an assault.
2. An expression of strong criticism; hostile comment: vicious attacks in all the newspapers.
3. Sports
a. Offensive play, especially in lacrosse.
b. An offensive play: Two midfielders were involved in the attack that resulted in a goal.
c. The players executing such a play.
d. Scoring ability or potential: a team with a powerful attack.
e. A forceful shot over the net in volleyball.
f. A sudden, intense effort to pull ahead in a race: waited until the last lap to begin her attack.
4.
a. The initial movement in a task or undertaking: made an optimistic attack on the pile of paperwork.
b. A method or procedure: Our attack on this project will have two phases.
5. An episode or onset of a disease, especially an occurrence of a chronic disease: an asthma attack.
6. The experience or beginning of a feeling, need, or desire: an attack of hunger; an attack of melancholy.
7.
a. Music The beginning or manner of beginning a piece, passage, or tone.
b. Decisiveness and clarity in artistic expression: a careful performance, but one lacking the rigorous attack the work demands.

[Early Modern English, from Middle French attaquer, from Old Italian attaccare, to join or enter (a fight or battle), to attack : ad-, a-, to + *-taccare in staccare, to detach (taken as s-, out, away, off + *taccare), possibly from Gothic *stakka, wooden stake, post (akin to Old English staca). Alternatively Old Italian staccare, to detach, from s-, out, away + tacca, notch, cut (from Gothic taikn, sign, token; see TETCHY).]

at·tacker n.

Synonyms: attack, assail, storm, assault, batter, beset
These verbs, drawn from military activity, mean in their figurative senses to act forcefully or aggressively toward someone or something. Attack applies especially to hostile verbal criticism: reviews that attacked the film for its senseless violence; attacked the ruling as detrimental to business interests.
Assail suggests repeated forceful attacks: Critics assailed the author's second novel.
Storm refers to a sudden sweeping attempt to overwhelm or win over: “After triumphantly storming the country, [the President] is obliged to storm Capitol Hill” (The Economist).
Assault and batter can suggest relentless attack or debilitating force: “We are all assaulted by so many messages battering us from the outside every hour of the day that our capacity for listening to our own inner voices is often drowned out” (Harvey Cox).
Beset suggests beleaguerment from all sides: “Rural and suburban areas have been beset by white-tailed deer gnawing shrubbery and crops, spreading disease” (Andrew C. Revkin).

The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fifth Edition copyright ©2018 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. All rights reserved.
 

Indo-European & Semitic Roots Appendices

    Thousands of entries in the dictionary include etymologies that trace their origins back to reconstructed proto-languages. You can obtain more information about these forms in our online appendices:

    Indo-European Roots

    Semitic Roots

    The Indo-European appendix covers nearly half of the Indo-European roots that have left their mark on English words. A more complete treatment of Indo-European roots and the English words derived from them is available in our Dictionary of Indo-European Roots.

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