As a combatant, your family's safety is threatened by your captors. "Return to your platoon as a spy for us, and your family's lives will be spared." You accept the terms with steadfast inclination.

It could be said that you were inducted into the opposition's intelligence protocol, but I find that word rather meek. The word "inducted" by itself doesn't consider the will of the inductee.

I'd also like to find different ways to communicate what happened in my scenario. I find that saying somebody had been "forced to be a spy", "forced to enlist", "forced to assume a position", etc., is too wordy and overcomplicates the message.


11 Answers 11


While military forces have been using impression and conscription to gather reluctant draftees for millennia, the word that most connotes the involuntary part to me is dragooned, especially as "dragooned into".

dragoon (v.): To force (into a course, etc.) by rigorous and harassing measures. (OED meaning 2)

to force into submission or compliance especially by violent measures (Merriam-Webster.com sense 2)

These days, you're most likely to hear dragoon used as a verb meaning "force someone to do something," like the way your best friend dragooned you into volunteering for the prom committee. Long ago, dragoons were soldiers who rode horses into battle and were trained to fight either on foot or on horseback. -- vocabulary.com

I got dragooned into building some wainscoting for my real estate company’s new office space. -- Reddit user "chainsawgeoff", 2021

Russian Federation (RF) authorities are dragooning Ukrainian citizens into uniform to fill gaps in ranks, but the unwilling soldiers often desert or flatly refuse to follow orders to attack, officials and news reports said. -- Kyiv Post, 2022

In your specific use case I might also simply and more generically say that the soldier had been coerced -- to compel to an act or choice ("abusers who coerce their victims into silence"), to achieve by force or threat ("coerce obedience") -- Merriam-Webster.com

  • 13
    +1 for coerce. For enlisting someone as a spy under threat of harm to their family, a verb like dragoon is inapt since it could easily be used nowadays of something as innocuous as an elementary school museum trip chaperoning assignment.
    – TimR
    Apr 16 at 11:34
  • I agree that "dragoon" is somewhat old-fashioned and may, in fact, be used humorously, but it has military connotations.
    – Wastrel
    Apr 16 at 14:06

I would describe this as "He was press-ganged into the service".

From dictionary.com:

[ pres-gang ]
verb (used with object)

to force (a person) into military or naval service.

to coerce (a person) into taking a certain action, political stand, etc.: to be press-ganged into endorsing a candidate.


Impress might work.

Merriam-Webster definition:

to procure or enlist by forcible persuasion.

It doesn't seem quite strong enough for your exact scenario, but it's better than "inducted".

  • I just found out about that word before checking here. It's definitely a word I'm looking for, however conjugating it may have the reader confused with another meaning. I'd have to find a way to strengthen the word by reinforcing the context somehow. A commenter on my post on Reddit suggested "conscript". That's also pretty close to what I'm trying to convey.
    – Vepuei
    Apr 16 at 6:33

When the person is being sent back to their home unit as a spy, verbs that originally involved the "inductee" being physically carried off to distant lands (shang-hai, impress, press-ganged) feel off to me, even if they do express the idea that the person is being forced to do something against their will.

As an alternative to coerce, which I upvoted since it fits perfectly even if it is unexotic, you could express the idea with the phrase under duress:

I became a spy for the enemy under duress. They threatened to kill my family.

M-W calls it "compulsion by threat".

“Duress.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/duress. Accessed 16 Apr. 2024.


How about shanghaied? Apparently shanghaiing someone (invariably an able-bodied man) originally meant rendering him unconscious (by plying him with drinks, drugging him, coshing him, or some other means), then putting him on board a merchant vessel. When the unconscious person came to, he would find himself forced to serve as a crew member on a ship already en route to Shanghai.

Now it is metaphorically extended to any sort of forced labor. From the OED:

To transfer forcibly or abduct; to constrain or compel. colloquial (originally U.S. Military slang).

“Shanghai, V., Sense 1.b.” Oxford English Dictionary, Oxford UP, September 2023, https://doi.org/10.1093/OED/1762120985. Accessed 16 April 2023.

"The soldier was shanghaied into being a spy for the enemy" seems to fit the situation you describe.

  • 2
    This captures the element of compulsion, but strongly carries a connotation of abduction or kidnapping. A person who is shanghaied is typically taken somewhere else, I don't think it's an accurate descriptor for the OP's example of someone who returns home as a double agent. Apr 16 at 12:43

There is about "induct" a certain formalism that makes this term certainly inexact in the present context; for instance, in the SOED, we get for sense "4" the definition "Enrol or conscript for military service".

There is an extension of the more usual meaning of "blackmail" that seems to apply precisely enough to this story. Usually the meaning of this verb is as follows.

(Collins) Definition of 'blackmail' (blækmeɪl IPA Pronunciation Guide )

  1. uncountable noun
    Blackmail is the action of threatening to reveal a secret about someone, unless they do something you tell them to do, such as giving you money.
    • It looks like the pictures were being used for blackmail.
    • Opponents accused him of blackmail and extortion.

  2. uncountable noun
    If you describe an action as emotional or moral blackmail, you disapprove of it because someone is using a person's emotions or moral values to persuade them to do something against their will. [disapproval] The tactics employed can range from overt bullying to subtle emotional blackmail.

  3. verb
    If one person blackmails another person, they use blackmail against them.

The extension particular to AmE can be read below.

(Cambridge Dictionary)
American Dictionary
blackmail noun [ U ] us /ˈblækˌmeɪl/

the act of threatening to harm someone or someone's reputation unless the person does as you say, or a payment made to someone who has threatened to harm you or your reputation if you fail to pay the person:

verb [ T ] us /ˈblækˌmeɪl/

The preposition would be "into" ("blackmailed into"), less often "to".

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  • Yes, even emotional blackmail. Apr 16 at 1:53
  • I prefer this over most others, which have connotations that are more... physical? If you are Shanghaied a sailor, they serve on your ship or die. Impress, press-gang, or dragoon a person into service, they are physically forced to work under threat of violence. Manage to escape the ship or camp/installation, and you're free. Escaping the immediate presence of your enemies doesn't stop you from being influenced through blackmail.
    – automaton
    Apr 16 at 21:17
  • @automaton That's what I thought (without having clearly made out the implications to the extent that you describe them).
    – LPH
    Apr 16 at 21:27

Most of the answers so far (shanghaied, press-ganged) would apply to a civilian rounded up for conscription or corvee labor, but don’t really work for what you describe here.

Someone who already works for one country, and is convinced to become a double-agent for another, is turned. Example from Wikipedia (of typical word usage, not intended as a reliable citation).

Double agentry may be practiced by spies of the target organization who infiltrate the controlling organization or may result from the turning (switching sides) of previously loyal agents of the controlling organization by the target. The threat of execution is the most common method of turning a captured agent (working for an intelligence service) into a double agent[....]

The more general term coerced applies here. We could also say he was strong-armed or extorted into it, or that it was under duress:

To do something under duress means to do it because someone forces you to do it or threatens you.


Another possibility is co-opted.

From Cambridge dictionary, second meaning:

to include someone in something, often against their will:

Whether they liked it or not, local people were co-opted into the victory parade.


To strong-arm someone seems to describe exactly your scenario: "to use force on; bully, intimidate".


Coerced or blackmailed into spying/betrayal, I would say. Though seeing the other answers I'm not quite sure if I understand the question correctly.


"Impelled" is another possible option.

impel verb [ T ] to make someone feel that they must do something: [ + to infinitive ] She was in such a mess I felt impelled to (= felt I had to) offer your services.

  • impel someone to do something I wonder what it is that impels him to exercise all the time.
  • And what's the source of your definition? You must attribute any copied text, and put the copied text itself inside a quotes/blockquoting.
    – Laurel
    Apr 19 at 3:46

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