Speak Okie: Highjack

Supposedly the word hijack originates from right here, in Oklahoma.

According to Roadside History of Oklahoma, by Francis and Roberta Fugate, prohibition-era Oklahoma is where the word hijack was coined. Here’s an excerpt:

Hijackers Originated in Oklahoma

During the Prohibition era in 1921, highwaymen hid out in the blackjack oaks between Tulsa and Cushing to waylay incoming bootleggers. The press began to refer to them as hijackers. By 1926 the term was in such common usage that the American Mercury took notice. H. K. Croessman wrote:

The first time I heard hijacker was from the lips of an Oklahoman. He explained it as coming from the command customary in hold-ups:
“Stick ’em up high, Jack ,” Jack being the common generic term for any male person of unknown or uncertain identity. Thus, the Oklahoman explained, both stick-up and hijack originate from the same
command. To hijack, is a verb, now apparently used exclusively in reference to road-robbery of illicit liquor.

H. L. Mencken, guru of the American language, heralded the word into American argot, including it among the “terms that threaten to be remembered.” In subsequent usage it was spelled hijack or highjack, with reference to robbing bootleggers and rumrunners of their stock. Later use has expanded the term to include robbing truckers of their cargoes and comandeering airplanes.

Over the years I have searched in vain for corroborating evidence of this origin. Most dictionaries just offer “U.S. 1920s, unknown.”

Highway 33 was a popular route for bootleggers to travel during prohibition. Illegal liquor from stills near Drumright and Cushing would makes its way to the thirsty oil town of Tulsa. Model Ts traveling east would be riding low, heavy with booze in hidden tanks. Highwaymen would lay in wait and watch for the same car, now headed west… but riding high and carrying cash.

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