shang·​hai | \ ˈshaŋ-ˌhī How to pronounce shanghai (audio) , shaŋ-ˈhī How to pronounce shanghai (audio) \
shanghaied; shanghaiing

Definition of shanghai

 (Entry 1 of 2)

transitive verb

1a : to put aboard a ship by force often with the help of liquor or a drug
b : to put by force or threat of force into or as if into a place of detention
2 : to put by trickery into an undesirable position


geographical name
Shang·​hai | \ shaŋ-ˈhī How to pronounce Shanghai (audio) \

Definition of Shanghai (Entry 2 of 2)

city and port on the Huangpu River near the estuary of the Chang (Yangtze) River in eastern China population 21,126,600

Note: Shanghai is China's most populous city.

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Other Words from shanghai


shanghaier \ shaŋ-​ˈhī(-​ə)r How to pronounce Shanghai (audio) , ˈshaŋ-​ˌhī-​ \ noun

Did You Know?

In the 1800s, long sea voyages were very difficult and dangerous, so people were understandably hesitant to become sailors. But sea captains and shipping companies needed crews to sail their ships, so they gathered sailors any way they could - even if that meant resorting to kidnapping by physical force or with the help of liquor or drugs. The word shanghai comes from the name of the Chinese city of Shanghai. People started to use the city's name for that unscrupulous way of obtaining sailors because the East was often a destination of ships that had kidnapped men onboard as crew.

Examples of shanghai in a Sentence

Recent Examples on the Web: Verb Some historians believe, as The Oregonian/OregonLive has reported, that the tunnels weren’t actually used to shanghai -- that is, abduct men and force them to join a ship’s crew. oregonlive, "‘Portals to Hell’ Travel Channel show explores Portland’s so-called ‘Shanghai Tunnels’," 26 Mar. 2020 The musical comedy is filled with zany pirates, zombie ships, mermaids and the plot revolves around a bumbling actor and his crew getting shanghaied by the terror of the high seas. Linda Mcintosh, San Diego Union-Tribune, "Newcomers group installs new officers," 10 July 2019 To shanghai your wife into a mental health intervention would be a mistake. Y Jeanne Phillips, San Francisco Chronicle, "Dad of twins fears wife is suffering from depression," 5 Feb. 2018 That prompts the secretly protective Madea to shanghai Joe and the equally outrageous old-timers Hattie (Patrice Lovely) and Bam (Cassi Davis) for a trip to the lake to bring Tiffany back. Mike Scott,, "'Boo 2! A Madea Halloween' movie review: Stupid-funny? Or just plain stupid?," 20 Oct. 2017 The ways in which our attention gets shanghaied by these companies makes us less good as citizens. Isaac Chotiner, Slate Magazine, "Why it’s time to panic about what Google and Facebook are doing to our lives.," 5 Oct. 2017 The idea of a summertime art festival has been shanghaied by the nonprofit Art Shanty Project. Bob Shaw, Twin Cities, "A Minnesotan’s guide to delusional winter fun," 6 Jan. 2017

These example sentences are selected automatically from various online news sources to reflect current usage of the word 'shanghai.' Views expressed in the examples do not represent the opinion of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback.

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First Known Use of shanghai


1871, in the meaning defined at sense 1a

History and Etymology for shanghai


Shanghai, China; from the former use of this method to secure sailors for voyages to eastern Asia

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The first known use of shanghai was in 1871

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Cite this Entry

“Shanghai.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 12 Apr. 2021.

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More Definitions for shanghai



English Language Learners Definition of shanghai

somewhat old-fashioned
: to bring (someone) onto a ship by force
informal : to make (someone) do something by using force or tricks

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