origin (?) of "hijack"

Cohen, Gerald Leonard gcohen at UMR.EDU
Thu Dec 7 01:04:28 UTC 2006

Here are two references for the origin of "hijack":
1) Gerald Cohen: 'The Missouri and Hobo Origin of "Hijack." in: _Studies in Slang_, vol. 2, (edited by Gerald Leonard Cohen),  Frankfurt a.M.: Peter Lang, 1989, pp.85-90.
2) Gerald Cohen: '"Hijack"--An Alleged 1866 Attestation Turns Out To Be Non-Existent,' in: _Studies in Slang_, vol. 5,
(edited by Gerald Leonard Cohen), Frankfurt a.M.: Peter Lang, 1997,  pp.160-161.
    '"Hijack" evidently began as a term referring to the pilfering of high-grade zinc (zinc was colloquially referred to as 'jack').  The mine operators referred to these pilferers as 'high jackers.' The term spread to the hobo jungles, where a 
'hi-jack' was someone who robbed a fellow hobo when he was asleep (a major offense).  The term then turned up in the oil fields ('"High-Jack"--a bandit or stick-up man (they are plentiful in the oil fields)'.  Then, with Prohibition the term hit the big-time, with its well recognized meaning: 'to rob a bootlegger (or smuggler) of his illicit goods.' Then, of course, 'to seize (an aeroplane) in flight and force the pilot to fly into a new destination.'
    The derivation of 'hijack' from a robber's command 'High, Jack' (did anyone actually ever say this?) is almost certainly a folk etymology.
G. Cohen

From: American Dialect Society on behalf of Wilson Gray
Sent: Wed 12/6/2006 3:37 PM
Subject: Re: origin (?) of "hijack"

About fifty years ago, I read somewhere that the origin is the
high-jacker's stereotypical command to "raise / lift / put / etc. 'em
up high, Jack."


On 12/6/06, Stephen Goranson <goranson at duke.edu> wrote:
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> Poster:       Stephen Goranson <goranson at DUKE.EDU>
> Subject:      origin (?) of "hijack"
> -------------------------------------------------------------------------------
> 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
> http://www.duke.edu/~goranson
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