The Language of Crime

Last week was a tough one in the US. Although we shouldn’t forget the crimes, some readers asked me to address language issues that came up in the news coverage.

Mignon Fogarty
4-minute read
Episode #365

'Hijack' Versus 'Carjack'

Another reader, Kellene Stockwell, ran into issues with words as she was putting together the news last week. She saw both “hijack” and “carjack” used to describe what happened to the man who was kidnapped in his SUV early in the Boston bombing manhunt.

Carjacking is a subset of hijacking.

“Hijack” is the older term. According to Merriam-Webster, its origin is unknown, but it was first used in 1923. It means to commandeer, steal, or take over something. You can hijack a car, a plane, a train, cargo, or even a meeting. 

The verb “carjack” arose much later in 1991.* The Oxford English Dictionary has the first use being from "The Economist," and I actually remember these incidents. The quotation reads “In the past six weeks more than 300 drivers have been carjacked in Detroit.” The OED includes only cars in carjacking, but Merriam-Webster uses the broader term “automobiles,” which would mean that it would be OK to say someone carjacked an SUV--and that seems right to me.

To answer Kellene’s question, it was correct to refer to the incident as either a hijacking or a carjacking. Maybe “hijacking” was a little safer since it was an SUV and not a car.

'Emigrate' Versus 'Immigrate'

Finally, Kellene also asked about “immigrate” versus “emigrate.” These two are easy to confuse because they sound so similar, but fortunately, the difference is also easy to remember.

You immigrate when you come into a country, and both “immigrate” and “in” start with the letter i. You emigrate when you exit a country, and both “emigrate” and “exit” start with the letter e. For example, if you moved from Russia to the United States, you emigrated from Russia, and you immigrated to the United States.

The root of both is the Latin word “migrare” which means to migrate.

* The noun “carjacking” arose earlier, in 1970. It appears from the OED entries that “hijack” arose as a noun and verb around the same time, but “carjack” started as a noun and later took on meanings as a verb.



About the Author

Mignon Fogarty

Mignon Fogarty is the founder of Quick and Dirty Tips and the author of seven books on language, including the New York Times bestseller "Grammar Girl's Quick and Dirty Tips for Better Writing." She is an inductee in the Podcasting Hall of Fame, and the show is a five-time winner of Best Education Podcast in the Podcast Awards. She has appeared as a guest expert on the Oprah Winfrey Show and the Today Show. Her popular LinkedIn Learning courses help people write better to communicate better.

You May Also Like...