Antedating of "Hijack" / "Hijacking"

Cohen, Gerald Leonard gcohen at MST.EDU
Wed Feb 13 02:47:21 UTC 2013

Here are three references.  The most important one is the 1989 item. Btw, when I wrote the article I had just come across the oil-field part of the puzzle, and this part requires further development.

Gerald Cohen 1984.  The Missouri and hobo origin of "hijack".  Comments on Etymology, vol. 16, no. 3-4, pp. 3-9.
Gerald Cohen 1989.  The Missouri and hobo origin of "hijack".  Studies in Slang, vol. 2 (= Forum Anglicum, vol. 16), pp. 85-90.
Gerald Cohen 1997. "Hijack" -- an alleged 1866 attestation turns out to be non-existent.  Studies in Slang, vol. 5   (= Forum Anglicum, vol. 22), pp. 160-161.

Earlier message: Cohen, Gerald Leonard, February 12, 2013 10:05 AM:

Before "hijack" meant "rob," it referred to the pilfering of high grade "zinc" (jack) in the zinc mines of southwest Missouri. At least some miners would slip a bit of it into their pockets or boots when they left work for the day and were known as "highjackers."  The term then spread to the hobo jungles, where it meant "someone who robbed from a fellow hobo while he's asleep." (This was a major offense in the jungles).

The term then spread to the oil fields, where it referred to a hold-up.  Then (in Prohibition): to steal bootlegged liquor.

I wrote an article on all this a while back, first in my Comments on Etymology and then in the Studies in Slang series I've been putting out.  Tomorrow I'll be back at my office and will send you the bibliographic reference.

Gerald Cohen

Jonathan Lighter Sent: Tuesday, February 12, 2013 9:53 AM wrote:


To "hi(gh)jack" originally meant to rob, hence to take, at gunpoint.


On Tue, Feb 12, 2013 at 10:49 AM, Joel S. Berson <Berson at> wrote:

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> Sender:       American Dialect Society <ADS-L at LISTSERV.UGA.EDU>
> Poster:       "Joel S. Berson" <Berson at ATT.NET>
> Subject:      Re: Antedating of "Hijack" / "Hijacking"
> -------------------------------------------------------------------------------
> Do I see variations in meaning in these early instances, that perhaps
> should be separated?  The OED has one definition, essentially "taking
> something that is moving", and a catchall "transf."
> I see the following 4 variations:
> 1)  Taking something valuable illicitly.  (This example does not
> involve goods on the move.)
>  From Fred:
> >1918 _Miami District Daily News_ (Miami, Oklahoma) 19 May 4
> >(America's Historical Newspapers)  Mulcting four soldiers of $35 by
> >the Joplin authorities might be termed legalized "Hijacking."
> 2)  The main sense.
> At 2/11/2013 08:44 PM, Nathaniel Sharpe wrote:
> >...
> >Date: Wednesday, August 9, 1916  Paper: Tulsa World (Tulsa, OK)  Volume:
> >XI  Issue: 280  Page: 1, Tells of Shooting Osage "High Jack"
> >(
> >According to a story told by R. W. Smith, an oil man of this city, there
> >will be one less "high-jack" to contend with in the Osage hills for a
> >time at least, as a result of his marksmanship, displayed in a pitched
> >battle on the old ridge road late Sunday afternoon.
> >Smith says he was showing some of his friends a lease near Keystone and
> >was returning to Tula when he was confronted by a lone highwayman who
> >commanded Smith and his party to "stick-em up."
> 3)  [I'm having difficulty coming up with a definition for the next;
> it's not goods on the move nor physically forceful.]
> >Date: Saturday, April 1, 1916  Paper: Tulsa World (Tulsa, OK)  Volume:
> >XI  Issue: 169  Page: Four, The Man About Town (
> >Knowing their immense wealth, pickpockets would immediately high-jack
> >the whole crowd.
> 4)  Forceful takeover.
> An OED quotation:
> >1970   Daily Tel. Mag. 16 Jan. 17/2   When a virus enters a cell it
> >hijacks it, and makes it do what it wants.
> Joel
>"If the truth is half as bad as I think it is, you can't handle the truth."

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