This is a good word for New Year’s. Each year proceeds from the previous, attacca.

If you’re looking at a musical score, and at the start of a movement you see attacca, you know you’re supposed to dive right into that movement without pausing from the previous one.

To attack it.

Except no. No and yes, but no.

To attach to it.

Sure, when the next movement comes along, you have a choice to pause for a moment or just to jump on it and keep going. But while a strong attack on the opening note can make quite a statement, the point is just that it’s attached like a trailer to a truck. It’s concatenated: chained together.

Why the confusion? Because the two English words, attack and attach, connect to the same Italian verb, attaccare. I won’t say the Italian is the direct source, but the English words and the Italian word appear to have the same origin – and both English words translate to attaccare. It reminds us that attach or stick (or tack on, if you like the sound) can be active and aggressive, not always passive. Think of a magnet: bring it close enough to the right kind of thing and it just – attack-attaches to it.

The Italian has a broad ambit of senses: according to Harper Collins, senses include ‘attach’, ‘stick’, ‘hang (up)’, ‘attack’, ‘begin, start’, ‘stick, adhere’, ‘be contagious’, and ‘cling’. Attaccare discorso means ‘start a conversation’, and Con me non attacca! means ‘That won’t work with me!’ That’s quite a lot of meaning sticking to one word. But it all seems to work, because it’s all related.

Years don’t need magnetism or a physical attack to roll around, of course. The line from one to another is arbitrary and instantaneous, and the instant passes without tremor (other than percussive sounds from fireworks and champagne corks). In truth, the time it takes to pass from one year to another is more than a full day: the Line Islands, part of Kiribati, are 14 hours ahead of Greenwich Mean Time, while Howland Island and Baker Island, owned by the US – and farther west than the Line Islands – are 12 hours behind it. That means that when the new year first arrives on the planet, it’s only 10 AM on New Year’s Eve in London, and when it last arrives it’s already noon on New Year’s Day in London. It is possible for something to happen on January 2nd and for people not so far away to learn of it on December 31st of the previous year.

There are also half-hour and even quarter-hour time zones on the planet (for example, when it’s noon in London it’s 5:30 PM in India and 5:45 PM in Nepal), meaning that the new year arrives a total of 39 times. And, because a day lasts 24 hours, it will be New Year’s Day – or New Year’s Eve, or any other day – somewhere on the planet for 50 hours from when it first arrives to when it last departs.

Time may seem to attack. The year 2016 has one heck of a casualty toll among famous people, for instance (and a far greater one among non-famous people). But as attached as we are to our arbitrary divisions of time, a year has no true discrete existence. Yes, the planet orbits the sun in a regular period, but just where we draw the line to start a new period is arbitrary – roughly 10 days after it reaches perihelion, going by the calendar that will start the year 2017 forthwith (other calendars start other years at other times). We go with it because it works with us. Because we are attached to it.

And while we may make resolutions to turn over new leaves each New Year’s, we mostly just turn over new pages in calendars (if even that). We don’t let go of our attachments. Rather, we sing to not letting old acquaintance be forgot. We go right into the next movement, but it is still attached to the one before.

4 responses to “attacca

  1. I wouldn’t guarantee that the interannual instant will pass without a tremor here in Wellington. We have had far too many of them for my liking in the past few weeks, quite a few of them big enough to do some damage. One office building has been demolished, the church down the road is to go the same way, and much of a city block is cordoned off until they tear down a multistorey carpark (complete with some imprisoned cars – it’s too unstable to enter the buildning never mind remove them).

    • Kristi Anderson

      Living in Seattle on the Pacific Rim where we await the “big one” is exactly why I have such dislike of parking garages! Making my palms sweaty just thinking about the possibility of being entombed. Oh hey, maybe giant parking structures of our greedy past lives are the source of fossil fuels in present time.

  2. Time does not attack: we diminish in it!

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