Assail (verb)


  1. to attack violently: assult
  2. to encounter, undertake, or confront energetically
  3. to oppose, challenge, or criticize harshly and forcefully
  4. to trouble or afflict in a manner that threatens to overwhelm
  5. to be perceived by (a person, a person’s senses, etc.) in a strongly noticeable and usually unpleasant way

(Ref: Merriam-Webster Online, Word of the day, 29 May 2020)

Use it in a sentence

[This is a true story – unfortunately, or fortunately, depending very much upon your attitude, it contains more toilet humour. It’s also a teensy bit longer than usual.]

The Galleria Alberto Sordi is a very glitzy, high-end shopping and restaurant arcade in the heart of Rome. The sort of shopping arcade overloaded with glass decoration, columns, lofty ceilings, mosaic floors, and very expensive stores. It also has a lovely clean public toilet that you can use for 1 Euro. That’s where my cousin and I headed, in our tourist uniforms and comfortable footwear.

There was a short line up of women waiting to use the cubicles and we joined the queue. A cleaning woman held court. There was nothing of the subjugated about her. This was her domain, and she ruled it with a polite but firm hand. She was neatly dressed, her was hair tied back and her face made up, and she directed traffic just as well as any policeman. My cousin and I spoke some Italian, so what unfolded next was hilarious to us, but not everyone in the line understood exactly what was going on, even though they could probably guess to some extent.

An Italian lady at the back of the queue brushed past a couple of tourists and approached the cleaning woman. Before anyone could protest, she tipped her head to one side and, pleading, hands outstretched, asked the cleaning woman in Italian, ‘Listen, I’m desperate, can I just use the disabled cubicle please?’ The cleaning woman nodded curtly, ‘ok’.

The lady’s relief was palpable, ‘Oh thank you!’ She headed in. After a few minutes, she came out, sighing dramatically, and thanked the cleaning woman again. She headed towards the mirrors and fussed with her hair. The cleaning woman nodded in acknowledgement and then turned and reopened the door to the disabled cubicle. Immediately, she was assailed, overwhelmed in fact, by a ghastly smell that vaguely wafted down the line. She shut it again quickly and turned to the woman who was still preening in the mirror, incredulous. Her eyes were wide, her brow furrowed. In disbelief, she asked the lady, ‘What creature did you give birth to in there? I do you a favour and that,’ she pointed in disgust to the disabled cubicle, ‘is the present you leave me?’ She angrily shook her head, ranting about how she’d just cleaned it and now it was a disgusting mess again.

The lady at the mirror barely flinched. In fact, as she walked out serenely, she shrugged apologetically but without remorse, and said ‘It’s a toilet! What can you do?’

My cousin and I were crying with laughter, still waiting our turn. I thought to myself, there’s the Italian character right there, in those two women. Self-confident and unapologetic.

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