1. A person held by one party in a conflict as security that specified terms will be met by the opposing party.
2. One that serves as security against an implied threat: superpowers held hostage to each other by their nuclear arsenals.
3. One that is under the constraining control of another: "In becoming a mother one becomes a hostage to fortune" (Janna Malamud Smith).
[Middle English, from Old French, probably from host, guest, host; see HOST1.]
The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fifth Edition copyright ©2022 by HarperCollins Publishers. All rights reserved.
Indo-European & Semitic Roots Appendices
Thousands of entries in the dictionary include etymologies that trace their origins back to reconstructed proto-languages. You can obtain more information about these forms in our online appendices:
The Indo-European appendix covers nearly half of the Indo-European roots that have left their mark on English words. A more complete treatment of Indo-European roots and the English words derived from them is available in our Dictionary of Indo-European Roots.