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'co-opt' in US usage means to take over for a purpose for which it was not really intended, having a slightly inappropriate connotation, while in the British usage it means to choose or elect as a member.

I can find a single reference that says the US usage started in the 50's but with no further explanation as to the reason for the shift in meaning.

Any help would be appreciated.

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In several on-line dictionaries, the 2nd or 3d meaning is "To take or assume for one's own use; appropriate:" and I have seen it used in this sense. – The _traveler Jun 27 '11 at 12:13
Perhaps the questioner's connection to 1950's usage in the US is rooted in the Red Scare of that time, public discussion of the HUAC hearings, etc.? – Janet Jun 28 '11 at 20:45

Basing on what reported from the NOAD, the meaning of co-opt in American is the following:

  • appoint to membership of a committee or other body by invitation of the existing members
  • divert to or use in a role different from the usual or original one
  • adopt (an idea or policy) for one's own use

It doesn't seem the meaning is different, between American and British English.

As per the origin, the dictionary says it's middle 17th century, from Latin cooptare, from co- ("together") + optare ("choose").

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The OP is asking for the origin of the usage of the word to mean "adopt for one's own use", not the origin of the word itself. – Thursagen Jun 27 '11 at 3:17
The OP is suggesting that the meaning of co-opt is different in American and British English, which is not true, basing on what reported by the NOAD. Asking the reason of the meaning shift in American doesn't have sense, if that is the question being asked, because there isn't a meaning shift that is only exists in American English. – kiamlaluno Jun 27 '11 at 3:25
In several online dictionaries the second or third meaning is 'To take or assume for one's own use; appropriate:.' I have seen it very often used in the sense of appropriating. For example, the Feb 21st Bloomberg News headline was "Cameron Urges Egypt Army to Co-Opt Opposition, End Emergency" – The _traveler Jun 27 '11 at 12:15
sorry, inserted before I was through. A vague source said that the usage of this in the sense of 'appropriate' is relatively new and I wondered if anyone could pinpoint the diverting point? – The _traveler Jun 27 '11 at 12:17
@Manjima The meaning of the phrase in American Eglish is not just one; therefore, saying that in AmE the word means A, and in BrE the word means B is not exact. – kiamlaluno Jun 27 '11 at 22:05

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