Simanaitis Says

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ETYMOLOGY: RANSOM

WHAT WITH RANSOMWARE much in the news these days, etymology of the word “ransom” is worthy of research. Merriam-Webster defines it as “a consideration paid or demanded for the release of someone or something in captivity.” Indeed, its use has broadened to include the thing in question being threatened electronically, not held captive.

M-W notes the word’s first known use in the 13th century: It comes from Middle English ransoun, from Anglo-French rançun, from Latin redemption-, redemptio

I’m reminded of the redemption value of empty bottles, though I realize this is straying from the point. However, let me cite a vintage ad on SiriusXM ”Radio Classics” for  pre-environmentally-friendly beer in “no-return” bottles: Just toss them away with the rest of the trash. 

Ouch.

OED Comments. The Compact Edition of the Oxford English Dictionary, 1971, offers citations dating from c. 1300: “If godd had wroght anober man for to ransun with adam….” Rather later, in 1819, Sir Walter Scott’s Ivanhoe got the spelling right: “An honourable imprisonment, as is due to one who is in treaty for ransom.” 

Ransoms and Crytopayment. Ransomwarers (if such a category exists) are difficult to trace because payment is typically demanded in crytocurrency, which is largely untraceable and thus preferred by malefactors.

“The Ulbricht Caper” is my favorite cryptocurrency tale. 

O Henry’s The Ransom of Red Chief is my favorite tale of a ransom gone wonderfully daft. Would that modern ransomware attempts mimic this. ds 

© Dennis Simanaitis, SimanaitisSays.com, 2021  

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