[Ads-l] "confiscate"

George Thompson george.thompson at NYU.EDU
Thu Mar 31 16:13:31 UTC 2016

This is a use of "confiscate" that isn't in the OED; or, if it's put in
with the OED's sense 4, is a nearly 50-year antedating.

[Saturday] was committed to our Goal, the *well-known* James Cunningham,
for robbing a Store at Newport, in Rhode Island, of Sail-Cloth, Gammons,
&c. to a considerable Amount, with which Goods he took his Passage this
Way, but being pursued, was taken in this Harbour before he could
confiscate any of his Booty.
            N-Y Gazette; and the W Mercury, June 3, 1771, p. 3, col. 1

*4.*  *loosely*. To seize as if by authority; to take forcible possession
of, to appropriate summarily.
1819    Byron *Don Juan: Canto II* cxxvi. 182   The cargoes he confiscated.
1865    D. Livingstone & C. Livingstone *Narr. Exped. Zambesi* vi. 148   He
was declared a prisoner, and his cargo and ship confiscated.
1876    S. Smiles *Huguenots in Eng.* (rev. ed.) iii. 39   The King
confiscated to himself the property of those who took refuge abroad.
1891    *N.E.D.* at *Confiscate*,   *Mod.* colloq. The college authorities
have confiscated every copy of the paper.

It seems to me that this rascal had already "seized as if by authority" the
bacon and the rest in Newport; when he was taken in the harbor on the boat
from Newport, he was prevented from fencing the stuff in NYC.
So is this a new sense, or just a careless use of the word by the editor?


George A. Thompson
The Guy Who Still Looks Stuff Up in Books.
Author of A Documentary History of "The African Theatre", Northwestern
Univ. Pr., 1998..

The American Dialect Society - http://www.americandialect.org

More information about the Ads-l mailing list