AskDefine | Define ransom

Dictionary Definition



1 money demanded for the return of a captured person [syn: ransom money]
2 payment for the release of someone
3 the act of freeing from captivity or punishment v : exchange or buy back for money; under threat [syn: redeem]

User Contributed Dictionary



From the Middle English ransoun, from the Old French rançon, from the redemption-, redemptio- (see redemption). Entered English ca. the 13th century


  1. Money paid for the freeing of a hostage.

Related terms


money paid for the freeing of a hostage
  • Czech: výkupné
  • Danish: løsesum
  • Dutch: losgeld
  • Finnish: lunnaat p, lunnasraha
  • French: rançon
  • German: Lösegeld
  • Greek: λύτρα [ˈlitra] n p
  • Hebrew:
  • Italian: riscatto
  • Japanese: 身代金
  • Polish: okup
  • Spanish: rescate


  1. (14c) To deliver, especially in context of sin or relevant penalties.
  2. To pay a price to set someone free from captivity or punishment.


to pay a price to set someone free


Merriam-Webster's Collegiate Dictionary: Tenth Edition 1997

Extensive Definition

Ransom is the practice of holding a prisoner to extort money or property to secure their release, or it can refer to the sum of money involved. Holding people for ransom has occurred throughout history. In 78 BC, pirates of modern-day Turkey captured Julius Caesar and held him on Pharmacusa until someone paid a fee for him. It also refers to demanding concessions from a person or organization by threatening damaging action.
In Europe during the Middle Ages, ransom became an important custom of chivalric warfare. An important knight, especially nobility or royalty, was worth a significant sum of money if captured, but nothing if he was killed. For this reason, the practice of ransom contributed to the development of heraldry, which allowed knights to advertise their identities, and by implication their ransom value, and made them less likely to be killed out of hand.
When ransom means "payment", the word comes via Old French rançon from Latin redemptio = "buying back": compare "redemption".
In Christianity, ransom is the shed blood of Jesus Christ, which made deliverance from sin and death possible for the offspring of Adam.
In the popular imagination, ransom notes (i.e. letters sent by the captors to those who they expect to pay up) are constructed from letters cut from newspapers to stop anyone from recognising the handwriting of the extortionist.
In typography, and later in computing lore, the ransom note effect occurs when a document uses too many fonts.
In school athletics, a school's mascot is sometimes kidnapped, and the ransom payment is usually a contest like a football game.

See also

  • bail, a judicially determined sum of money deposited as security to ensure that a prisoner appears in court if released.
ransom in Indonesian: Tebusan
ransom in Catalan: Extorsió
ransom in Czech: Výkupné
ransom in German: Lösegeld
ransom in Spanish: Extorsión
ransom in Esperanto: Elaĉeta mono
ransom in French: Rançon
ransom in Japanese: 身代金
ransom in Occitan (post 1500): Extorsion
ransom in Russian: Выкуп
ransom in Chinese: 贖金

Synonyms, Antonyms and Related Words

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