HIJACKED: to seize a vehicle by force or threat of force


For the past three weeks the media has been focused upon the disappearance of the flight from Malaysia to China.   It has disappeared.   For some strange reason yet to be determined, the plane lost contact with the ground after leaving Malaysia en route to Bejing and just disappeared.

There have been all kinds of speculations about the fate of Malaysian Flight 370, ranging from a mechanical failure and crash into the ocean,  to the plane being hijacked by terrorists and either flown to another country without detection or crashed into the ocean as a sign of power.

The more we hear about the findings of those investigating the disappearance, it would seem that there is some kind of nefarious activity surrounding the event.   Most people (at least right now) would assume that the plane has been hijacked.

So…what does that mean?  What is the derivation of the word hijack?  We don’t really know.  Most dictionaries indicate that it is a word that appeared in our language in the 1920’s but that there is no evidence that it has been abducted from some other language.   It may just be a purely American word that was created to describe something that occurs in modern times…somebody (for some reason) seizes a vehicle by force or threat of force. The Wiktionary resource center says that it’s a portmanteau created by the combination of the words highway and jacker  (one who steals.)  The vehicle, however,  may be a car, a bus, a train, a plane, or even a ship.   All of these are known targets of hijacking.*

Those of us who viewed the recent movie, Captain Phillips, have seen it up front and personal.   An armed gang takes over a ship on the open seas and holds the crew hostage in hopes of receiving a handsome sum of money upon its return to its owners.  We are talking money in the millions.

Some people identify hijacking and abduction as being synonymous.  They aren’t.  As Bryan Garner points out, “Vehicles and airlanes are hijacked, not people.” (p. 421)  There may be people in the vehicles or airplace, and they may be taken captive.  But they are kidnapped or abducted.  The vehicle or airplane is hijacked.  It’s a good distinction.

The primary goal of a terrorist hijacking is self-defining.   It is an act which is meant to create terror.  In the case of Malaysian Flight #370 those who are experiencing terror are the victims, their families and friends, and those in leadership in countries affected by the act.  If it is, indeed, an act of terrorism, it has already accomplished its goal.  It would appear, however, after all this time, that there is another level of terror to be experienced…that moment in which it may become clear that the victims are dead.


Photo Credit: IndianaExpress.com

*In more recent times, the word hijack has come to be used in reference to companies or corporations, when a “hostile takeover” is undertaken to seize a company at its vulnerable point.

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