Printable Version
Pronunciation: shæng-hai Hear it!

Part of Speech: Verb, transitive

Meaning: To kidnap, steal, or forcibly remove in the most egregious manner, especially by drugging or force.

Notes: We don't have many verbs ending on I, so the forms of this word might be of interest. They are: (he/she) shanghais, shanghaied, (are) shanghaiing. A person who shanghais would be a shanghaier. (I suppose the route taken by shanghaiers would be a shanghaiway, but dictionaries haven't discovered this word yet.)

In Play: Today's Good Word is no longer as applicable to forcible naval recruitment as it was during the days of the Gold Rush (see Word History). Today this word is used mostly as an emphatic colloquialism for kidnap or steal: "I didn't want to go to the pizza parlor, but the guys shanghaied me and forced me off my diet." If you wish to push it a bit further away from its original sense, you might try: "We mentioned our new product idea to a mail clerk from another company, who shanghaied it and his company got it in production before we could."

Word History: When San Francisco was a small frontier town, it was difficult for shippers to find sufficient crews to man the ships that sailed in and out of San Francisco Bay, especially for the long voyages to China. Shippers turned to "crimps", men who would kidnap others from the dock area by drugging them in bars or elsewhere, and taking them out to ships in the harbor. The practice was so rampant at one point that the area of bars and brothels around the San Francisco harbor was called the Barbary Coast, after the infamous refuge for pirates on the North African coast. At first, when men disappeared from the Barbary Coast, people would simply say "he's sailing to Shanghai". Later the phrase was reduced to today's verb. Shanghai in Chinese comes from shang "above" and hai "sea". (We didn't have to shanghai this word; it was surrendered willingly by William Hupy, a denizen of the Alpha Agora.

Dr. Goodword,

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