Monday, July 31, 2006

hapax legomenon: The Case of Charles Dexter Ward

Hapax legomenon is the technical term of when a word appears only once - or relatively infrequently in a corpus.

Today we look at "hi-jackers".

This word originated in criminal slang, but notably appears in a very early Ernest Hemingway piece in 1920. Through some roundabout means, HPL uses the word a scant 7 years later in the passage, "... one of the frequent sordid waylayings of trucks by 'hi-jackers' in quest of liquor shipments...".

Here, HPL tosses right in the middle of erudite scholarship of the Salem Village witch trials a word of common jazz age coinage.



*The earliest example cited in the Oxford English Dictionary comes from 1923 and the Random House Historical Dictionary of American Slang lists a use of "hyjack" to mean "an armed robber" : Ernest Hemingway in 1920. I have not been able to track down the exact text, however.

1 comment:

Michelle said...

I wonder if it is related to the highwaymen and their customary attacks on driving citizenry...? A lot of them seem to have been named Jack, incidentally.

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