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Accost is an ambiguous word in common usage, but not in the dictionary. The dictionary definition of accost is, if you’ll excuse the split infinitive, to boldly approach and speak to someone. In this sense, accosting someone is not, in itself an illegal act.

Sometimes, if you are accosted, the person who does the accosting might have some nefarious intent in mind, such as robbing you or sexually assaulting you, but the accosting itself—at least the dictionary definition of accosting—is not necessarily nefarious.

Yet in the common usage of the word accost some physical force is often associated with the word accost. So, be careful both how you use accost and how you understand the meaning of others who use it.

That having been said, if you accost someone (using the common usage sense of the word accost), don’t be surprised if a police officer accosts you (using the dictionary sense of the word accost) and charges you with an offense as a result of you having been more than merely offensive.

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