Today's Word "Shanghai"


Published in Vocabulary

shanghai \SHAENG-hi\ (verb) - To kidnap, steal, or remove in the most egregious manner, especially by drugging or force, an unfortunate misuse of the beautiful name of a lovely Chinese city by the English language.

"We mentioned our new product idea to a mail clerk from another company that shanghaied it and put it into production before we could."

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."


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