Merriam-Webster defines shanghai as

to put aboard a ship by force often with the help of liquor or a drug

Wikipedia defines shanghaiing as

Shanghaiing or crimping is the practice of kidnapping people to serve as sailors by coercive techniques such as trickery, intimidation, or violence.
The verb "to shanghai" joined the lexicon with "crimping" and "sailor thieves" in the 1850s. A theory of the word's origin is that it comes from the Chinese city of Shanghai, a common destination of the ships with abducted crews. The term has since expanded to mean "kidnapped" or "induced to do something by means of fraud."

And http://encyclopedia.thefreedictionary.com/Crimp+(recruitment)

Shanghaiing was normal practice in Iceland during the 1950s and 60s as there was a lack of personnel for the nation's fishing fleet, due to a large influx of Faroese fishermen willing to work for less. Fishermen would be given vast amounts of alcohol and the boats would leave when the sailors were sleeping or too drunk to realize what was happening. As the Faroese fishermen returned to the Faroese Islands during the 1970s the practice stopped [citation needed].

Collins dictionary entry is more a description than a translation:

to shanghai sb (Naut) (archaic) narcotizar or emborrachar a algn y llevarle como marinero; (fig) secuestrar a algn

What would be a good translation of "to shanghai"?

  • English also has the term press gang: forcibly enlist (someone) into service in the army or navy. Commented Oct 16, 2016 at 20:53
  • 3
    I have just learnt this word, nice one! Wordreference suggests a literal translation: llevar a alguien como marinero por la fuerza. We could create something like narcoalistar...
    – fedorqui
    Commented Oct 16, 2016 at 21:40

1 Answer 1


There is no word to define such concept in Spanish, neither there is in any other language: Portuguese, Italian, French. I checked in Wordreference and the only one close is German, where they have adapted it to shanghaien.

This is quite understandable: the concept of shanghaiing was created on a very specific context among specific people: sailors in 1850. Even though it expanded to mean "kidnap", in Spain this has never happened in a large scale (as far as I know), so there has not been the need to create a word to define it.

On a funny aside, we can play etymology and suggest some Spanish adaptations:

  • narcoalistar: to alistar using some narcotics.
  • narconvencer to "convince" using some narcotics.

Since the verb to shanghai does not longer apply and it is unlikely to revive in its current definition, I don't foresee Spanish adopting it anytime soon.

  • 1
    Me gusta "narcoalistar" !
    – user13560
    Commented Oct 20, 2016 at 12:51

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