H is for Hijacking (AtoZ Challenge – Roaring Twenties)

ROARING TWENTIES - Hijacking - During Prohibition, it was a very profitable way of acquiring alcohol for any bootlegger

HSo you have this highly rewarding product which is in very high demand and relatively cheap to make. It’s the dream of any businessman, right? It is in such high demand, in fact, that even if you produce it at a very high speed (and not in a particularly scrupulous way because that would be too expensive, and hey, customer don’t complain anyway), you can’t stay up to the request.
That’s quite bothersome, but hey, you are a bootlegger and you don’t much care for fairness anyway. And there are other bootleggers doing the same thing you do, which means, they have the same product you need. And granted, their stokes are as well guarded as yours, patrolled by gunmen and their location are kept as secret as possible, but just like you, they won’t sell their stuff in the stockroom. No, they will send it out on tracks, which will be equally guarded by gunmen, but as you know fully well, moving targets are harder to guard.

Bootlegger Track

Bootlegger Track

So this is what you do. In addition to diverting legal denaturared alcohol from government stockyards and renaturate it, you steal from your competitors, mostly by hijacking their trucks, or even ships. It’s a very common way to obtain alcohol to sell on the black market and costs very little, and as all good businessmen, you love the sound of the sentence it costs very little.

There is no definite explanation where the word hijack came from. Some sources derive it from the way the act was done. Supposedly, the member of one gang would approach the driver of a rival’s track with a smile and the greeting “Hi, Jack!”, then stuck the muzzle of a gat in the man’s face and relieved him of the load. Another source, track the use of the word back to 1923, at which time it was hyphenated, “hi-jacking”. So the word is supposed to come from “highway jackrolling”, meaning a theft by a show of force.
But as so many words born in the Roaring Twenties, there are all kinds of stories about it. But hay, what do you care, after all? What you do care is getting that load of gin that cost so little.



The Guardian – What is the origin of the word ‘hijack’
Prohibition – Prohibition is Enforced


ROARING TWENTIES AtoZ - Hijacking - During Prohibition, it was a very profitable way of acquiring alcohol for any bootlegger

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About the Author

I was born, raised and I still live near Verona (Italy), though I worked for a time in Dublin. I started writing fantasy stories as a kid. Today I’m a bookseller who reads fantasy, history, mythology, anthropology and lots of speculative fiction. Somehow, all of this has found its way into my own dieselpunk stories.

19 Comments on "H is for Hijacking (AtoZ Challenge – Roaring Twenties)"

  1. Fascinating ideas here about where hijack came from. My dictionary simply says “origin unknown.” 🙂
    Sue Archer recently posted…Rogue Words from A to Z: You May Be Good, But I’m the GoodestMy Profile

  2. It was a hard one, eh.! Not easy to find info about this one.

  3. Enjoyed this post. Fascinating to think how recently all this was. Anne Stenhouse, Novels Now

  4. I had no idea the word hijack came from the prohibition era – fascinating. I think I prefer the idea is might have come from someone walking up and saying ‘Hi, Jack’ because that’s just wonderful 🙂
    Tasha’s Thinkings | Wittegen Press | FB3X (AC)
    Tasha recently posted…AtoZChallenge2015 – H is for Herne the Hunter, HathorMy Profile

  5. Kind of fun to think about “highway jackrolling” and “rickrolling” as having strange yet common etymological roots 🙂
    Jeri Burns recently posted…Daily Ghost Post – G is for Ghoul (or The Short History of a Creature with an Overused Name)My Profile

  6. I am having some serious Boardwalk Empire flashbacks here 😀 Good to learn about the historical background of the show…

    @TarkabarkaHolgy from
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    Tarkabarka recently posted…H is for King Harald’s Saga (Epics from A to Z)My Profile

  7. I never really thought about the origins of that word, though as I’ve discovered in my historical fiction research, some words I assumed were at least as old as the start of the 20th century are more recent in origin. That’s pretty cool that it originated in the 1920s.
    Carrie-Anne recently posted…The Hardaga family of BosniaMy Profile

    • So many words were born in a different time than we think. For example, I discovered bouncer was already used in the 1800s, though I was adviced to use doorman for a Twentises setting because that was more common.
      Language is such a strange beast 😉

  8. Really interesting the origin of the word hijack. I didn’t know it was that recent. Love the photo. Another great post, Sarah. Thanks for educating us!
    Sharon Marie Himsl recently posted…H is for Home Security System: Inventions by Women A-ZMy Profile

  9. A rose by any other name…
    Visit me at: Life & Faith in Caneyhead
    I am Ensign B of Tremps’ Troops
    with the A to Z Challenge
    Barbara In Caneyhead recently posted…Musical Memories: Humming BirdMy Profile

  10. Oh wow! I love bizarre etymology, and this is certainly that!!!! I like the first explanation better, because it is full of pep, but the second explanation sounds more likely, somehow. Great stuff!
    Melanie Atherton Allen recently posted…The JournalistMy Profile

  11. Ah, that’s so interesting. Perhaps the word hijack comes from a little of both explanations. Would be cool if it did. 🙂
    Lanise Brown recently posted…J is for JapanMy Profile

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