Release me

Posted in Figuratively Speaking at 10:04 am by Marion



Today I’m addressing a couple of words that live in a sort of free and lawless place when it comes to usage.

They are words which, oddly enough, refer to states where there is no freedom. And I’m afraid that even without rules, they are nevertheless most often used … wrongly.

Captive as a noun refers to a prisoner or animal that is confined, usually against their will. In the cardboard box, the little girl held the turtle as a captive until her mother made her release it into the woods.

Captive is also an adjective … and here’s where the fireworks begin.

Captive refers to someone or thing that has been captured … and therefore is a captive. The captive finch refused to sing. (By the way, no need to use a redundant phrase like “captive prisoner.” A captive is a prisoner.)

Yet, there are times when we want to say that someone was so charmed or delighted, that it was as if they were held prisoner. This is what you call a captive audience.

The aria so spellbound the crowd that for the rest of the performance, the soprano sang to a captive audience.

Now, too often I’ll hear this usage: Since members of the board have to be at the meeting, you’ll have a captive audience. Or, the play was a requirement for graduation, so it was a captive audience.


Usage for “captive audience” and other phrases like it should refer to a group of people who seem to be held against their will because of the quality of the show.

It is used in the sense of “captivate,” which means to attract and hold the interest and attention of, to charm. (I won’t belabor the point or bore you with sentences about captivating beauties and their ilk.)

So if you find yourself tied up in a cage, you are captive. But if your captor happens to sing like Caruso, you may find yourself a captive, captivated, captive.

1 Comment

  1. Recent Links Tagged With "captive" - JabberTags said,

    February 11, 2009 at 2:19 am

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