origin (?) of "hijack"

Stephen Goranson goranson at DUKE.EDU
Wed Dec 6 17:23:12 UTC 2006

OED hijack, v. (1923f) "orig. U.S. slang (now passing into general
use"; "Origin
unknown." The OED definition concentrates on taking of goods and vehicles,
though its quotations (e.g., 1936 E. AMBLER Dark Frontier xi. 178, I still
don't see how we're going to high-jack Groom's men.) point to the taking of
people as well. Note the spelling "high-jack"; it is perhaps easier for
highjack to give rise to hijack than the reverse.

HDAS has many quotes (1912f), though it's debatable which is the earliest
relevant one; "orig. uncert.; perh. fr. Hi, Jack! as addressed to an
unsuspecting victim, as in 1925 quote; perh. high (with uncertain meaning) +
jack "to hunt'...cf 1912 quote.

Here's the potential source: a story "He Also Serves" by O. Henry (W.S. Porter
1862-1910) published in the collection Options (1909), and perhaps
earlier. The
story is available online at several sites. The narrator relates a
story told to
him in New York about an adventure with High Jack Snakefeeder. The latter was
smitten with one Florence Blue Feather, who "suddenly disappeared from
her home
and envirionments"; "vanished." Then follows much drinking and a visit
to ruins
in Mexico where they see the possible reincarnation of this lady. Though the
mechanism of this person-abducting or shanghaing isn't clear, here's the O.
Henry-type ending:

"Say," said Hunky, with a grin, "that little lady that stole High Jack
certainly did give me a jar when I first took a look at her, but it
was only for a minute. You remember I told you High Jack said that
Miss Florence Blue Feather disappeared from home about a year ago?
Well, where she landed four days later was in as neat a five-room flat
on East Twenty-third Street as you ever walked sideways through--and
she's been Mrs. Magee ever since."

Mr. Magee was the New York storyteller.

Perhaps the robbing of High Jack's lady in this 1909 story gave rise to
"high-jack" and "hijack" in years soon after.

Stephen Goranson

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

More information about the Ads-l mailing list