This is my very first query/post. I was attempting to find out the history in American slang for using the word jack to mean theft. In a sentence it might be Someone jacked my bike last night. I had it locked up but when I got up it was gone.

Or I'm gonna jack that camera when they're not looking.

When I started my web search I had no idea what a can of worms I was opening. OED has two terms one dating back to 1841 I think was jacklight and the other was 1840 but neither had anything to do with theft.

I've tried many different iterations to complete a Google search and other search engines. It only seems to baffle to cyber world.

  • We don't use that in Britain - where it is "nick" who gets the blame. Someone's nicked my bike. "The nick" is also slang for prison or a police cell. These uses of "nick" are discussed on a previous post – WS2 Jan 24 '18 at 8:54
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    Cf. Did gamblers get their lingo “hijacked?” and the answers there, although I don't believe any are on the mark; 'jack' developed through 'hijack' from earlier slang use of 'jack' in the sense of "to hand over reluctantly". Also see the implicit theft involved in "jacked up [their prices, etc.]". – JEL Jan 24 '18 at 21:16

It appears to be the from hijack according to Random House Dictionary.

Jack verb (used with object), Slang:

  • to steal: Some neighborhood kids jacked her car and took it for a joyride. Hackers jacked my email account in a phishing scam.

  • to rob: He got jacked on his way home from the club

Origin First recorded in 1930-35; shortening of hijack

Hijack in its original meaning meant:

  • [late 19C+] (orig. US) a hold-up followed by the theft of goods (often exercised by one criminal upon another), thus the gangster/robber who performs the hold-up; also attrib.

(Green's Dictionary of Slang)

  • Sorry, that's just not true. "Jack" meant to steal long before stealing on the highway was "highjacking". Possibly the modern use was a revival through "highjack", but possibly not. – Malvolio Jan 24 '18 at 22:06
  • @Malvolio - any evidence to support what you say? I posted material from reliable sources! – user 66974 Jan 24 '18 at 22:08
  • @user149691 -- here, "hijack (v.) by 1922 (perhaps c. 1918), American English, of unknown origin; perhaps from high(way) + jacker "one who holds up" (agent noun from jack (v.))." – Malvolio Jan 24 '18 at 22:09
  • @Malvolio - and how does that contrast with what I posted? – user 66974 Jan 24 '18 at 22:10
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    @Malvolio - terms meaning and usage evolve...I don’t see your point. – user 66974 Jan 24 '18 at 22:17

No one seems clear on exactly how jack came to mean "steal".

Jack means "lift", and many words that mean lift are used to mean to take without authorization: "lift", "pick", "heist" (a variant of "hoist"), but that might be a coincidence.

Jack also means "man", especially one of low social status, so it might have been a specialization; jack came to mean "sailor" that way -- a "jack" was an man, then an uncouth man, then a thief, then the act of thieving.

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    Sorry but you are supposed to provide evidence of what you are saying. This is just your personal opinion. – user 66974 Jan 24 '18 at 22:15

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