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Seventeenth-century criminals abducted children to become servants or labourers in the American plantations. These were the original kidnappings, in which the first element, kid was then a low slang term for a child and the second meant stealing (napping being a relative of nab, to thieve).

Their legacy lives on in frivolous inventions that preserve the idea of the second element. Dognapping is the most common, though a decade ago there was a brief flurry of gnomenapping of ornaments from British gardens.

In early April 2009 a new form appeared as a result of enforced incarceration of the foreign bosses of French firms by desperate workers protesting against mass layoffs. Among them, the director of the French operations of 3M was held for two days and nights; the chief executive of Sony France was detained overnight; three executives of Scapa, a British glue-maker, were barricaded in their offices; and four bosses of the US firm Caterpillar were seized.

The technique has a long history in France as a method of negotiation. French people call it sequestration, but an English term for it is new: bossnapping. It immediately became common everywhere, with variant forms appearing almost at once — such as the verb to bossnap, the noun bossnapper and the adjective bossnapped — indicating a high degree of acceptance.

Bossnapping is not new in France but the growing number of corporate restructurings and rising unemployment have fuelled growing militancy in labour protests. A poll this week showed almost half of those interviewed believed that actions such as bossnapping were acceptable.

Financial Times, 8 Apr. 2009

Bossnappers struck again in France today as four executives of Caterpillar, the heavy equipment manufacturer, were detained by their employees in a protest over redundancy plans.

The Times, 31 Mar. 2009

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Copyright © Michael Quinion, 1996–. All rights reserved.
Page created 11 Apr. 2009

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The English language is forever changing. New words appear; old ones fall out of use or alter their meanings. World Wide Words tries to record at least a part of this shifting wordscape by featuring new words, word histories, words in the news, and the curiosities of native English speech.

World Wide Words is copyright © Michael Quinion, 1996–. All rights reserved.
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Last modified: 11 April 2009.