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H is for Hijacking (AtoZ Challenge – Roaring Twenties)


So 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 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 other bootleggers are 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 denaturated 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 like 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’
How Stuff Works – Enforcing Prohibition

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


  • Sue Archer
    Posted April 9, 2015 at 01:16

    Fascinating ideas here about where hijack came from. My dictionary simply says “origin unknown.” 🙂

  • Post Author
    Posted April 9, 2015 at 06:32

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

  • Anne Stenhouse
    Posted April 9, 2015 at 08:16

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

    • Post Author
      Posted April 9, 2015 at 12:18

      Well, it’s recent compared to much fo history, but it’s still nearly a century ago 😉

  • Tasha
    Posted April 9, 2015 at 10:21

    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)

  • Jeri Burns
    Posted April 9, 2015 at 12:32

    Kind of fun to think about “highway jackrolling” and “rickrolling” as having strange yet common etymological roots 🙂

    • Post Author
      Posted April 9, 2015 at 16:54

      In fact, the explanation is so fun I wonder if it’s really true 🙂

  • Tarkabarka
    Posted April 9, 2015 at 15:04

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

    @TarkabarkaHolgy from
    Multicolored Diary – Epics from A to Z
    MopDog – 26 Ways to Die in Medieval Hungary

    • Post Author
      Posted April 9, 2015 at 16:55

      Would you believe I haven’t watched Boardwalk Empire yet?
      I need to do something about it!

  • Carrie-Anne
    Posted April 9, 2015 at 15:31

    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.

    • Post Author
      Posted April 9, 2015 at 16:58

      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 😉

  • Sharon Marie Himsl
    Posted April 9, 2015 at 18:04

    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!

    • Post Author
      Posted April 9, 2015 at 19:05

      Happy you liked it. I love that photo too!
      And I’m not trying to educate anyone, I’m just thrilled to share all my discoveries 🙂

  • Barbara In Caneyhead
    Posted April 10, 2015 at 03:01

    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

  • Melanie Atherton Allen
    Posted April 12, 2015 at 18:47

    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!

  • Lanise Brown
    Posted April 13, 2015 at 02:39

    Ah, that’s so interesting. Perhaps the word hijack comes from a little of both explanations. Would be cool if it did. 🙂

    • Post Author
      Posted April 13, 2015 at 06:55

      It would be. I can’t decide whether this is plausible or not 😉

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