Printable Version
Pronunciation: hai-jæk Hear it!

Part of Speech: Verb, transitive or intransitive

Meaning: 1. To rob in transit, to commit highway robbery on land, on the sea, or in the air. 2. To illegally take control of a transport vessel or vehicle and divert it to a different destination.

Notes: It might seem that this good word is a journalistic spelling of highjack; The Oxford English Dictionary suggests as much. However, the earliest examples it gives of this word are spelled as it is above. The activity is hijacking and a person involved in it is a hijacker.

In Play: The meaning of today's word has been changing recently, from stealing the contents of some form of transport to stealing the carrier itself, "The robber then hijacked a car from a passing motorist to make his escape." However, it also applies to a wide assortment of metaphors, "We were enjoying a lovely chat until Stu deBaker and Ford Parker hijacked the conversation; after that, the only topic discussed was cars."

Word History: The origin of this word is a complete mystery. We can only speculate that it derives from one of the meanings of the verb to jack, referring to such nefarious activities as poaching. In current US slang, to jack a car means to steal it but no one seems to know if this sense predates the 1920s, when hijack began appearing in print. So, jack could be derived from hijack. It does seem to be the case that the term originally applied to ships, so it may have originally referred to jacking by filibusters on the high seas. That, however, is pure speculation. (Patricia Castellanos of Montevideo, Uruguay, wondered, as we all do, how this word came to be.)

Dr. Goodword,

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