Suddenly…right out of the blue

…The university writing class had just ended and a bright, front-row student from China, whose second language was English, rose from his chair and approached my lectern. He’d recently gotten the highest score on my English grammar test.  He looked troubled.

“Dr. Knapp, this paragraph puzzles me. Can you explain?”

He held a recent copy of Time; the article was about economics.

“It says here,” he pointed to words that said, “President Clinton had shanghaied the Republican agenda.”

For more use the DOOR.


First, before I could catch myself, I laughed. Second, I profoundly apologized. (Fortunately, as I had learned earlier, we were both Christians, and that seemed to help cover my embarrassment…)

“Uh…may I ask where you’re from?”

Shanghai,” he replied.

I tried hard not to laugh again but he could tell. He looked very serious.

“I see,” I replied, really needing a longer sentence for time to collect my thoughts. “Well…uh, sometime maybe a couple hundred years or so ago, sailing ships on long voyages (“long” to westerners) would dock in far-eastern countries to drug and kidnap men to work on their sailing ships. It was a bad thing. A really bad thing.” I quickly tried to divert his attention. “It looks like our Democrat President is said to have stolen, or uh…taken and used some of the thinking of the Republican Party.” I didn’t know much else to say. “And yes, this a useful way to…”

“This happened in China?” he interrupted, which was rare for him.

I nodded. “It happened in lots of places really, I think.”

“I see,” he said.

“And because it happened a long time ago, we put it in the past tense which I’m sure you understand.”

Shanghaied,” he pronounced carefully.

We parted on friendly terms.

[English is an unashamed kidnapper of words; nonetheless, converting a place (which is a noun) into a verb is rare…and  I’m buffaloed that I can’t come up with a third example. Can you?]


[♠] Check out the meaning of “shanghai.” Can you come up with  any names that have come to mean more than the place or person they came from?



Author: John Knapp

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