Printable Version
Pronunciation: ê-sayl Hear it!

Part of Speech: Verb

Meaning: 1. To assault, attack physically, as 'to assail the enemy's army'. 2. To attack verbally, to bully, criticize or ridicule strongly, as 'to assail someone's character'. 3. To beset, harass, 'assailed by doubts'.

Notes: Today's Good Word comes with a full complement of lexical relatives. Someone who assails is an assailant. The act of assailing is usually represented by assault, rarely assailment. Something begging to be assailed is thought to be assailable, because of its assailability.

In Play: Physical assailing is usually denoted by the verb assault. However, verbal assault may be covered to today's Good Word: "Hector was assailed by his boss for coming to work late the third time in a week." It is also good for emotional assailing: "Hector was also assailed by his own sense of guilt for showing up late for work so many times."

Word History: This word comes from Old French asalir "attack, assault" (Modern French assaillir), inherited from Latin assalire "to jump on, leap at", comprising ad "(up) to, toward" + salire "to jump, leap". The present participle of this verb, salien(t)s "leaping, jumping", is the source of English salient. Salire also became sallie "sally" in French, which English also borrowed as, well, the verb sally, as in 'to sally forth'. French sauté is the past participle of sauter "to leap", again, the French version of Latin saltare, the frequentative of saltire. Apparently, the name resulted from the sight of small edibles dancing in the frying pan while being sautéed. One other English word goes back to the Latin word for "leap", somersault. It is a mixture of Middle French sombresault and Provençal sobresault, comprising sobre "over" (from Latin supra "over") + saut "a leap", inherited from Latin saltus "a jump or leap".

Dr. Goodword,

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