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What is the difference between abduct and kidnap?

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up vote 10 down vote accepted

Kidnap does have some slight suggestion of holding for ransom or for some other advantage over a targeted third party (originally of children to get money from their parents), and after this is delivered the victim will be released. Abduct is more general, and may include situations where the victims may be the targets themselves, without a third party being involved.

Sadly, this useful distinction is often lost.

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Actually, I don't think there is any distinction in usage anymore. Etymologically, kidnapper comes from kid + nap (which apparently meant nab or seize), which clearly has some connotation. – F'x Mar 11 '11 at 17:32

In the main meaning, abduct and kidnap are rigorously synonymous. In addition to that, abduct also has a meaning in physiology (as in abductor muscle): move a body part away from its rest position.

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I agree largely with my colleagues that adbuct and kidnap are synonyms of each other. However, I'd like to add that abduct is strongly associated with alien encounters (alien abductions). I don't think I've ever heard anyone use the phrase "alien kidnapping," and it sounds so odd that it makes me think of someone kidnapping an alien rather than the other way around.

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You can say "the little girl was abducted", without to implicate that she was kidnapped by an extraterrestrial being. Then, alien (at least in American English) is also used to mean somebody coming from a foreign country or nation. – kiamlaluno Mar 11 '11 at 16:00
He's just saying that normally for aliens you use abduct, not that you use it ONLY for that. – nico Mar 11 '11 at 16:05
@nico: He is saying "strongly associated". – kiamlaluno Mar 11 '11 at 16:33
Of course abduct can be used in other contexts, I never said otherwise. "Strongly associated" means that if someone said "He got abducted" in a movie, more often than not someone's going to assume he meant that aliens had taken him (without any further context). – Neil Mar 11 '11 at 17:23
@Neil I disagree: without context, unless you're a big big SciFi fan, I wouldn't consider it has any “alien” connotation. – F'x Mar 11 '11 at 17:30

Abduct and kidnap are synonyms. There may be legal definitions that vary, but essentially these are the same meanings and can be applied in the same way.

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