Word: commandeer

Pronunciation: kah-mən-DEER

Part of Speech: verb


  1. officially take possession or control of something, especially for military purposes
  2. take possession of something without authority

Source: Oxford Dictionaries

Will Turner: We’re going to steal a ship? That ship?

Jack Sparrow: Commandeer. We’re going to commandeer that ship. Nautical term.

Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl (2003)

Let’s have some fun with another word I picked up from Pirates of the Caribbean. The word “commandeer” comes up quite a few times in the first film of Disney’s popular Pirates series, where it’s (logically) always used by Captain Jack Sparrow. A notable example is when he and Will are planning to take one of the military’s prized ships on their mission to rescue the kidnapped Elizabeth, in which case Jack replaces Will’s blunt choice of words with a “nautical term” that frankly makes little difference except for being easier on the ears (and the conscience).

To “commandeer” something is to take control of it by force, either officially for military purposes or without authority. The word has an interesting history to it, tracing back from the early 19th century through the Afrikaans verb kommandeer and the Dutch verb commanderen to the French verb commander, meaning “to command”. This verb is derived from the Latin verb commendare, which is comprised of two roots: the preposition com (denoting intensive force) and the verb mandare (“to commit” or “to command”).

I suppose the word “commandeer” is similar to the word “usurp“, at least in its second sense. Interestingly, the word can also apply to people, as a sub-definition of it is “enlist someone to help in a task, typically against the person’s will”. So take note: if your characters make a habit of engaging in official or unauthorized business, they may find the need to “commandeer” something (or someone) once in a while! Good luck!

What are your thoughts on this word? Any suggestions for future “Word of the Week” featured words?

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