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In my experience, the verb 'to attack' or the noun 'attack', more specifically in the context of criticism / a verbal attack, usually has a positive connotation, in that the person doing the attacking is not shunned upon but his behaviour is indirectly approved. In fact, a quick search in the Oxford's Leaners Dictionary shows these two entries:

  • The school has come under attack for failing to encourage bright students.
  • Doctors have gone on the attack, accusing the government of incompetence.

In both cases, it is implied that the people criticising the school and the government, respectively, were right to do so.

However, this is not always the case. The other entry in the dictionary is the following:

  • He found himself the victim of an unprovoked attack by the media.

From the latter entry it is clear that the media is being shunned by the writer.

My question is whether the above is true - whether the word 'attack' in the context of verbal attack has a positive connotation most of the times, at least in modern usage. Also, are there more appropriates word/phrases to use which connote that the verbal attack is a 'positive' one and a negative one?

Thank you.

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No, 'to attack' has no inherent positive or negative connotation. Any connotation is dependent on the context in which it is used.

In fact, in the first two examples you cite, the verb 'attack' is used to refer to unsubstantiated accusations, so, from a journalistic point of view, no value judgement is being made. The writer is simply stating that an 'attack' has been made by somebody who alleges negative behaviour, not that the attack is justified.

In the last example, yes, the writer is definitely implying that the attack was 'negative' for them, but it is the adjective 'unprovoked' that conveys that meaning, not the verb 'attack'.

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