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Etymology 1[edit]

American English, from Shanghai, with reference to the former practice of forcibly crewing ships heading for the Orient.[1]


shanghai (third-person singular simple present shanghais, present participle shanghaiing, simple past and past participle shanghaied)

  1. (transitive) To force or trick (someone) into joining a ship as part of the crew.
    Synonym: press-gang
    • 1923, Francis Lynde, chapter 2, in Somewhere in the Caribbean:
      By this time I hadn't much doubt of the nature of the trap and the identity of the trapping vessel. The faint smell of alcohol in the forehold told the story. I had been sandbagged and taken aboard a bootlegging craft, shanghaied in good old-fashioned style; and the vessel was probably now on its way to the Bahamas for a cargo of spirits.
    • 1999 June 24, ‘The Resurrection of Tom Waits’, in Rolling Stone, quoted in Innocent When You Dream, Orion (2006), page 256,
      It was the strangest galley: the sounds, the steam, he's screaming at his coworkers. I felt like I'd been shanghaied.
  2. (transitive) To abduct or coerce.
    Synonym: press-gang
  3. (transitive, US) To trick (a person) into entering a jurisdiction where they can lawfully be arrested.
  4. (transitive) To commandeer; appropriate; hijack
    Let's see if we can shanghai a room for a couple of hours.
  5. (transitive, military, slang) To transfer (a person) against their will.
    • 2020, Stephen Crane, ‎Ambrose Bierce, The Military MEGAPACK®: 25 Great Tales of War (page 329)
      “Why, if you so loved and cherished the armed guard,” Captain Banning continued, “did you arrange for transfer?”
      “I never, sir! ... But he shanghaied me out of the armed guard pronto.”


shanghai (plural shanghais)

  1. (US, archaic) A tall dandy.

Etymology 2[edit]

From Scottish shangan, from Scottish Gaelic seangan, influenced by the Chinese city.[2]


shanghai (plural shanghais)

  1. (Australia, New Zealand) A slingshot.
    • 1985, Peter Carey, Illywhacker, Faber and Faber 2003, p. 206:
      They scrounged around the camp [] and held out their filthy wings to the feeble sun, making themselves an easy target for Charles's shanghai.
    • 2020, Parliament of Singapore, “Guns, Explosives and Weapons Control Bill”, in Republic of Singapore Government Gazette[1], page 161:
      However, certain objects are excluded from being treated as a gun. These include a longbow, crossbow, slingshot or shanghai even though it is capable of propelling a projectile by means of an explosive force.



  1. ^ Douglas Harper, “shanghai”, in Online Etymology Dictionary, 2001–2021.
  2. ^ Origins: A Short Etymological Dictionary of Modern English, by Eric Partridge, 2006, p. 613