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, 2018 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, 2018 at 21:16
  • @Molly-Blue Could you refine that? Of course "Someone jacked my bike last night…" but what could "I had it locked up but when I got up it was gone" ever contribute? Dec 20, 2021 at 22:27
  • When OED had two terms, one dating back to 1841, where does "I think" come into this? Was it "jacklight" or what? When the other was 1840 but neither had anything to do with theft, how could that be helpful? When you've tried many different "iterations" to complete searches, can you list them… preferably all of them - or should we just guess what you tried? Dec 20, 2021 at 22:31

2 Answers 2


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. Jan 24, 2018 at 22:06
  • @Malvolio - any evidence to support what you say? I posted material from reliable sources!
    – user 66974
    Jan 24, 2018 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.))." Jan 24, 2018 at 22:09
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    @Malvolio - terms meaning and usage evolve...I don’t see your point.
    – user 66974
    Jan 24, 2018 at 22:17
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    @Malvolio -come on!!! You are the talking nonsense. I didn’t invent anything I just followed the thread given by dictionaries. And it does sounds logical to me. If you can supply evidence to support your view just add it to your answer.
    – user 66974
    Jan 25, 2018 at 6:19

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, 2018 at 22:15
  • That might well be Michael's personal opinion yet who doubts "jack means lift" sounds like a valuable contribution? Dec 20, 2021 at 22:23

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