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kid·nap (kĭdnăp)
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tr.v. kid·napped, kid·nap·ping, kid·naps or kid·naped or kid·nap·ing
To abduct or confine (a person) forcibly, by threat of force, or by deceit, without the authority of law.

[KID, child + nap, to snatch (perhaps variant of NAB or of Scandinavian origin ).]

kidnap·pee, kidnap·ee (kĭdnă-pē) n.
kidnap n.
kidnapper, kidnaper n.

Word History: Kidnapper seems to have originated among those who perpetrate this crime. We know this because kid and napper, the two parts of the compound, were slang of the sort that criminals used. Kid, which still has an informal air, was considered low slang when kidnapper was formed, and napper is obsolete slang for a thief, coming from the verb nap, "to steal." Nap is possibly a variant of nab, which also still has a slangy ring. In the second half of the 1600s, when the word kidnapper begins to appear in English, kidnappers plied their trade to secure laborers for plantations in colonies such as the ones in North America. The term later took on the broader sense that it has today. The verb kidnap begins to be attested a bit later than kidnapper and is possibly a back-formation from kidnapperthat is, the suffix -er was removed from kidnapper to create a new verb kidnap.

The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fifth Edition copyright ©2020 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. 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:

    Indo-European Roots

    Semitic Roots

    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.

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