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attack, assail, assault, beset, besiege, bombard, charge, molest, storm
There is no shortage of “fighting words.” Attack is the most general verb, meaning to set upon someone or something in a violent, forceful, or aggressive way ( the rebels attacked at dawn) ; but it can also be used figuratively ( attack the government's policy). Assault implies a greater degree of violence or viciousness and the infliction of more damage. As part of the legal term assault and battery, it suggests an attempt or threat to injure someone physically. Molest is another word meaning to attack and is used today almost exclusively of sexual molestation ( she had been molested as a child). Charge and storm are primarily military words, both suggesting a forceful assault on a fixed position. To charge is to make a violent onslaught ( the infantry charged the enemy camp) and is often used as a command ( “Charge!” the general cried). To storm means to take by force, with all the momentum and fury of a storm ( after days of planning, the soldiers stormed the castle), but there is often the suggestion of a last-ditch, all-out effort to end a long siege or avoid defeat. To assail is to attack with repeated thrusts or blows, implying that victory depends not so much on force as on persistence. To bombard is to assail continuously with bombs or shells ( they bombarded the city without mercy for days). Besiege means to surround with an armed force ( to besiege the capital city). When used figuratively, its meaning comes close to that of assail, but with an emphasis on being hemmed in and enclosed rather than punished repeatedly ( besieged with fears). Beset also means to attack on all sides ( beset by enemies), but it is also used frequently in other contexts to mean set or placed upon ( a bracelet beset with diamonds).