General English

  • noun a person who is captured and held by someone or an organisation, which threatens to kill him or her unless their demands are met


  • noun a person captured by an enemy or by criminals and kept until your demands are met


  • noun a person who is seized and held, in order to force other people to do something (e.g. paying a sum of money) or to deter them from doing something (e.g. attacking soldiers)

Origin & History of “hostage”

Despite its similarity, hostage is not related to any of the English words host. It comes via Old French hostage from *obsidāticum, a vulgar Latin derivative of late Latin obsidātus ‘condition of being held as a security for the fulfilment of an undertaking’. this is turn was based on Latin obses ‘hostage’, a compound noun formed from the prefix ob- ‘before’ and the base of sedēre ‘sit’ (English obsess (16th c.) is made up of virtually the same elements). The use of hostage for the ‘person held’ was established before English took it over.