As per this link, the word 'kidnap' originated to denote nabbing away of a child. When and how did kidnap come to denote nabbing of adults?

Update: Just found a link to a 1650 book that mentions kidnapping of souls. Now not sure how correct the above link is.

  • In Robert Louis Stevenson's book Kidnapped, written in 1886, the hero (and kidnappee) is seventeen). – Peter Shor Mar 12 '12 at 20:11
  • yeah, but then kidnap originated in 1680s. – rest_day Mar 12 '12 at 20:19
  • I guess it assumes that the "kid" in "kidna" refers to "kids", as in children. Is it possible that "kidnap" has a different root, so that assuming "kid" => "children" is an invalid assumption? – FrustratedWithFormsDesigner Mar 12 '12 at 20:43
  • @FrustratedWithFormsDesigner all the sources including dictionary.com and etymonline.com gives kidnap originated from kid and nap (variation of nab) – rest_day Mar 12 '12 at 22:36
  • Isn't it the case that any word, of however narrow a meaning, will be allowed to be used with wider meaning later? Is it not the case that there is pressure (i.e., tendency towards convenience) to do so, instead of making up a new word? Could you not ask the same question about a host of other words? – Hexagon Tiling Mar 12 '12 at 23:48

Kidnap appears to be a back-formation from kidnapper (1682). This chart shows the relative use of “man was kidnapped”, “woman was kidnapped”, and “child was kidnapped”; there is a mysterious spike around 1850–1870 that may explain the subsequent increase in popularity of applying kidnap to adults, but I’m loath to draw any conclusions.

Chart showing word relationships.

My guess is that kidnap became the general English word for abduction because we just didn’t have another word for it. Abduction didn’t refer to kidnapping till the 1760s, and the verb abduct is from as late as 1834. It makes sense that kidnap would have been extended to close the lexical gap.

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  • Updated the question. – rest_day Mar 13 '12 at 0:16
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    Prior to abduct and kidnap we had rape. Today's meaning is different to the days when raptus seductionis was distinct from raptus violentiæ and when a man couldn't be legally considered as having raped his wife. Originally it meant "taking someone from those they belong to" and if a woman, the victim of the crime was taken to be the husband or family. When Johnny Depp and Rosamund Pike have their sexy "speak to me of abduction" scene in The Libertine it's anachronistic, but a less ahistorical version would sound horrific to those of us who speak present-day English. – Jon Hanna Jan 27 '13 at 17:21

The earliest OED citation of 1682 reads

Mr. John Wilmore haveing kidnapped a boy of 13 years of age to Jamaica

The next citation, dated 1688, is

John Dykes Convicted of Kidnapping, or Enticing away, His Majesty's Subjects, to go Servants into the Foreign Plantations.

Assuming subjects refers to more than children, we might reasonably, if not definitively, conclude that the change came about between the two dates.

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  • Updated the question. – rest_day Mar 13 '12 at 0:16
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    @fireDude67: ?? it's spelled that way by the author of the quote, not by Barrie. – Mitch Mar 13 '12 at 1:32
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    Oh, then [sic] should be added to show that is how it was originally spelled. – Joe the Person Mar 13 '12 at 2:21
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    [sic] would be appropriate if the original author made an error. Since the quotation dates from before English spelling was settled, I'm not sure [sic] would be the right thing to put. – nohat Mar 13 '12 at 4:18
  • Yes, at the time it was a common style to capitalise any noun (including gerunds), so there is no error in the piece. It could also be a title or headline, in which case it would be a normal style even today (though we tend to favour much shorter headlines). – Jon Hanna Jan 27 '13 at 16:22

The Online Etymology Dictionary defines "kidnap"as 1680s, compound of kid "child" and nap "snatch Away," variant of nab... In the book cited, The Old Whig, printed earlier in 1650, Samuel Chandler places the word kidnap in a spiritual context. He castigates the clergy of the day, whom he claims to be "shepherds and so have a right to fold their sheep that the wolves mayn't come near them and devour them." ..."They are to watch over the souls of the Christian people that thieves and robbers may not filch and kidnap them to destruction." p39

The argument here is metaphorical and linked to a number of Bible passages. The kidnapping relates to thinking adults of immature understanding, not to young children.

Kidnap is likely from "kid", a young goat (Hebrew gediy, a young goat, Strongs Concordance,1423) and nap a variant of nab, which Websters (1854) suggests is from KNAB, and means "to seize with the teeth," thus presenting us with a vivid word picture of the seizing of a young member (spiritually) of the flock (a young goat) by the teeth of wolves,(the clergy speaking hypocritically).

"They declare their assent to 39 whole articles only in jest and for financial gain." p398

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  • The book which mentions kidnap in a spiritual sense, The Old Whig, by Samuel Chandler appears to have been written in 1739, not 1679. The title page date in Volume 2 of MDCXXXCIX appears to be a misprint for MDCCXXXIX. In Volume 1, the date is MDCCXXXIX. <archive.org/stream/oldwhigorconsis00changoog#page/n3/mode/2up> I assume this was the Samuel Chandler who was a Presbyterian minister and who lived from 1693 to 1766, according to the 1911 Encyclopedia Britannica. <1911encyclopedia.org/Samuel_Chandler> This would put the date of this usage later than those cited in the OED. – user47365 Jul 7 '13 at 17:07

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