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I was reading this Wikipedia page: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Child_abductions_in_the_Russian_invasion_of_Ukraine and noticed that the word abduct/abduction is used often in the text.

After reading its definitions in Merram-Webster and Cambridge dictionaries, I am still unsure I fully understand the exact meaning of the word and its nuances. The most suitable definitions for the Wikipedia article from these dictionaries seem to be:

  • to seize and take away (a person) by force (Mwrriam-Webster)
  • to take a person away by force (Cambridge)

However, they seem very generic. For example, these definitions seem applicable to what police does to criminals, or what army does to conscripts in some cases, but I have not seen "abduct" used in such contexts.

So what would be the exact meaning of "abduct" (for the Wikipedia article)?

Also, is this word neutral? Or has negative connotation? I'd guess it is the latter, but better to confirm.

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  • to take away by force is generally without the person's consent. How can "by force" not be negative?
    – Lambie
    Oct 16, 2023 at 13:46
  • @Lambie I think that "by force" often implies negative things, but maybe not necessarily always?
    – mintay
    Oct 16, 2023 at 13:56
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    Well, I think by force is always negative in human terms. abduct is very close to kidnap though they do differ a bit.
    – Lambie
    Oct 16, 2023 at 14:00
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    Kidnap usually has the specific meaning of the abduction of an individual by criminals for ransom. Oct 16, 2023 at 18:11
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    In context of child abduction, I'd say those definitions are not general enough - parental child abduction, for example, rarely involves use of force. Oct 17, 2023 at 8:46

2 Answers 2

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(context - I'm American, my answer may not be applicable to all dialects)

This is a great point! In general, abduct is only used in mainstream culture when referring to an illegal or illegitimate action. So the police arresting criminals or an army conscripting soldiers would not be referred to as abduction. This is because the word has a strong negative connotation of illegitimacy or illegality.

However, not all people/groups believe that the laws should be written as they are. This is especially true when talking about multiple countries, with their own sets of laws. In the article you linked, Russia may well view this action as legitimate and within its legal rights. However, the word abduction is used because the broader global community and the UN has condemned the action and ruled that it is a war crime.

In the US, you may hear police arrests referred to as abductions by people or groups who do not believe the police have a legal or moral right to arrest the people in question (this comes up not infrequently around protest movements). Whether a draft is called an abduction or not likely depends on the political views of the people talking about it.

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    The AmE thing is irrelevant as are most issues with regard to formal vocabulary in English.
    – Lambie
    Oct 16, 2023 at 14:28
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    @Lambie what do you mean? Oct 16, 2023 at 18:12
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    @Lambie Hmmm, that's an interesting thought, I'll need to do some thinking on it. I included the note in this answer because it addresses connotation, not only syntax. I know that connotation can sometimes change culture/culture, and I am aware that I may not know which words/phrases have connotations that differ from those I'm familiar with. I wouldn't even claim to be able to speak for all AmE speakers, much less a more global community Oct 16, 2023 at 19:24
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    @Lambie Do you feel there is a specific reason to not include a note about context/positionality? Oct 16, 2023 at 19:25
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    @Lambie: That is an overextended absolute. There is a lot of overlap between formal registers of most English-speaking regions, but I wouldn't go as far as claiming that it is an absolute equality. To use a somewhat silly example, "taking off your pants in a public area" would mean two very different things, with one implying something illegal (in the UK you'd be taking off your underwear and thus exposing yourself) but not the other (in America you'd only be taking off the top layer of clothing, this is assuming you're not going commando underneath). A less silly example: a public school.
    – Flater
    Oct 17, 2023 at 5:23
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abduct
to seize and take away (a person) by force (Mwrriam-Webster) to take a person away by force (Cambridge)

kidnap
verb [ T ] US /ˈkɪd.næp/ UK /ˈkɪd.næp/ -pp- Add to word list to take a person away illegally by force, usually in order to demand money in exchange for releasing them: The wife of a businessman was kidnapped from her home in London last night.

(Cambridge Dictionary, also)

The main difference is that kidnapping usually involves a ransom of money or something else in exchange for releasing the person. Abduction does not imply that, but just that the person is taken away by force or without their consent. Those young girls in Nigeria (a while back) were abducted but were not kidnapped since at the time no money was demanded. They were abducted for other purposes such as slavery, sexual or otherwise.

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