Words are fascinating creatures. Some have clear cut roles to play, while others can carry more than one meaning.
Words also evolve over time, and tracking this evolution can be so engrossing that there is an entire field of study devoted to the subject called etymology.
This is not to mention how some words don’t necessarily descend from Latin or other ancient roots.
They may be portmanteaus or acronyms that have made their way into everyday speech and have become staples of the language.
Over and above, not only can words tell us a lot about the cultures that birthed them, but they can also move from one culture to another, changing how new generations communicate with one another.
Today’s word embodies everything enthralling about words, and it does so in one little, four-letter sized package.
It has many meanings, some of which can be traced back to earlier times and others that are given to it through acronyms. And, it has enriched both pop culture and social media.
Today’s word is “swag.”
- 1 What is the meaning of “swag”?
- 2 ”Swag” the actual word
- 3 ”Swag” the acronym
What is the meaning of “swag”?
If we’re talking about “swag” as a word, not an acronym, then it can take on many meanings, from a noun that refers to a suspended wreath to a verb that means to sway.
“Swag” also means free merchandise, loot, and stylish confidence. And, for Australians, “swag” can refer to a bundle of personal items that belong to a traveler or a miner.
But, when used as an acronym, “SWAG” can either stand for “Scientific Wild Ass Guess” or “Strength Weaknesses Actions Growth.”
And, seeing as how versatile this expression is, it should come as no surprise to learn that there are several expressions and phrases that have appeared, including “he got swag.”
Moreover, “swag” has had a discernible effect on hip hop culture and has made its way into social media, giving people on Twitter something to talk about.
With all this laid out, let’s delve into each aspect separately.
”Swag” the actual word
We will begin by discussing “swag” the word, not the acronym, and exploring all of its different meanings.
”Swag” the suspended wreath
The first meaning we will look into is likely the one you know the least about.
“Swag” can be used to refer wreaths that are suspended from both ends and are left hanging down in the middle.
In fact, “swag” doesn’t necessarily have to refer to a wreath. It could be a garland, a drapery, or a cluster of foliage or flowers. What matters is how these things are hung.
The swags looked beautiful.
If you want to, you can drape a piece of fabric over two wooden poles to create an impromptu swag.
Obviously, “swag” in this context is an ornamental object, one that adorns walls, windows, or any space.
Another name for this definition of “swag” is “festoon.”
And, if you were to Google “festoon” right now, you will find pictures of hanging lights and drooping wreaths.
The pictures will give you a better idea of what we mean by an ornament that is hung from both ends but is left to sag in the middle.
Don’t forget to hang all the festoons for the birthday party tomorrow.
What’s more, “swag” doesn’t only have to refer to a drooping ornament but can also be used to refer to paintings or carved representations of these drooping ornaments, whether these ornaments are made from fabric, flowers, fruits, or some other foliage.
Their living room was beautiful. It had these majestic doorways with beautifully carved swags above them.
Now, you have probably noticed that “swag” is used as a noun in this context. However, it didn’t take long for this definition of “swag” to prompt the creation of a verb.
The verb “swag” can mean to adorn or hang with swags.
We need to swag these wreaths before the ceremony tomorrow.
Interestingly, there is another way you can use “swag” as a verb. “Swag” can mean that something is hanging loosely or even sinking down, which you can sort of see how it relates to the original meaning, right?
The clothesline was swagging.
”Swag” the swale
We just saw how “swag” can be used to refer to a drooping piece of ornament, and that should have left you with a pretty strong mental image, something resembling a valley.
In fact, it is this very mental image which can probably be ascribed to giving the following definition.
Another meaning for “swag” is a swale, which is a depression in the land that tends to be moister and to have different vegetation than the surrounding, higher land. It’s sort of like a valley.
And, if you’ve never heard this expression before, you’re not alone.
You see, “swag” as a swale is more popular in the Midland English dialect, where it is used to refer to small valleys filled with water that are born as a result of mining operations.
Yeah, I know where John is. He is by that swag over there.
”Swag” as in to sway or to lurch
You tired yet? Well, brace yourself because we still have a long way to go.
Now, “swag” can also mean that something is moving in a heavy or unsteady manner either from side to side or up and down. Simply put, it also means to sway.
In this instance, “swag” acts as a verb, and it can be used both with and without an object.
The lantern kept swagging during the earthquake.
Here, “swag” doesn’t have a direct object. Instead, it is a verb that describes what the lantern was doing.
Please don’t swag the chandelier. The whole thing is fragile, and if it falls, it will break and cost both of us a fortune.
Alternatively, in this latter example, “swag” has a direct object, which is the word “chandelier.”
“Swag” can equally apply to people.
As the carriage crossed the rocky road, the sheriff inside kept swagging right and left.
Moreover, “swag” can also be used as a noun that also means a sort of swaying or lurching motion.
After the earthquake, the chandelier displayed a threatening swag.
Now, even though we aren’t one hundred percent sure of the origin of this particular definition of “swag,” there are some compelling theories.
For instance, some people trace this “swag” to the 1520s or 1530s and believe that its roots might be Scandinavian.
To be more specific, they believe that “swag” is related to the Norwegian “svaga” and “svagga,” both of which mean to sway or to rock.
”Swag” for Australians and Kiwis
Interestingly, people who live in Australia and New Zealand have a unique definition for the word “swag.”
According to them, “swag” is a small bundle that contains a traveler’s belongings, including their clothes, their food, and their cooking utensils. It is used informally.
Did you see the hitchhiker on the road, the one carrying their swag and trying to get a ride to Melbourne?
And, like most unique expressions, “swag” was soon operating as both a noun and a verb.
When used as a verb, “swag” means to travel around carrying your belongings in a bundle. Obviously, this type of verb doesn’t take an object after it.
When she decided to take a year off, she thought it might be a good idea to swag around Australia.
Now, if any Australians are reading this, you might have an issue with this last example. And, you’d be right.
You see, although words can have particular meanings, these meanings can change depending on usage and cultural customs.
For instance, the word “rock” might have been used more frequently among geologists a couple of centuries ago, but, today, telling someone they “rock” is tantamount to telling them that they are awesome.
How those two definitions relate to one another might be baffling at first, but when you consider the appearance and evolution of music, particularly rock music, it becomes easier to see how one thing could have led to another.
Similarly, the definition of the word “swag” has evolved with the times. More specifically, “to go on the swag” is an informal way of saying someone has become a tramp.
If you don’t know what a tramp is, it is an individual who keeps traveling on foot, all the while searching for work.
That said, some tramps make a living through begging, which might explain why the word “tramp” has had such a negative connotation.
In fact, at one time, it was a strong insult, and it was used to talk about homeless, poor people. This was more around the time of the Great Depression.
So, when the example said, “she decided to swag around Australia,” this might have been interpreted as becoming a tramp or worse.
Nevertheless, according to the original meaning, the example only meant to say that she decided to travel around Australia with a small bundle carrying her belongings.
It said nothing of how she decided to make a living or whether she was poor or not.
However, the following example clearly states that its subject has decided to become a tramp.
Things were really bad. He lost his job and struggled to find anything else. He ended up having to go on the swag just to be able to eat.
And, a “swagman” is an Australian who migrate from place to place looking for work, also known as a drifter.
The town was overrun by swagmen when the mayor announced the new project.
And, if you weren’t confused enough already, you might be interested to learn that both Australians and Kiwis use “swags of” as an informal way of saying “loads of” or “lots of.”
Jason’s got swags of business cards in his glove compartment.
But, when you think about it, it kind of makes sense. “Swags of” is just another way of saying that there is so much of something that it could fill several swags.
The other ”Swag”
Now, we come to the definitions that you were expecting and the ones you sort of knew about.
For starters, “swag” is slang for things that people got illegally or by stealing.
One of the earlier uses of this word can be traced back to 1898 when Willamette Farmer said “Silverware in those days was the choicest swag known to burglars.”
So, in short, “swag” meant loot.
And, if you felt that the example we just gave was old, then you will be surprised to learn that the word “swag” was used in the underworld as far back as the 1600s.
For instance, you had swag-shops that sold goods, and you had the term “rum swag” which meant something was full of rich goods.
As we’ve already seen time and again, words evolve over time, and this type of “swag” is no exception.
Starting from the 1960s, “swag” started to mean the free promotional items that you got when you attended events.
These freebies also included the free slippers you get when you ride an airplane and the free records aspiring musicians sent to radio stations.
However, it wasn’t until the 1990s that this term took off in popularity. Today, “swag” covers free pens, shirts, mugs, calendars, and all the other usual suspects that can carry the logo of a company.
Dude, look at all this swag I got from the conference. I don’t think I’ll need to buy another pen or notebook again for the next five years.
On a side note, this type of “swag” is also written as “schwag.”
Another neat informal definition of “swag,” one that is used in the United States, is low-grade cannabis.
I am fine smoking swag, but I’d much rather get my hands on something stronger.
”Swag” as in style and confidence
This is the definition you are probably most familiar with. We are now talking about “swag” that refers to someone being stylish and confident.
It’s obviously a slang word, one that you’ll find in a lot of today’s pop culture and social media interactions.
Woah, he’s got loads of swag. No wonder he’s so popular.
The above sentence is basically saying that the subject of the sentence is so stylish and confident that it should come as no surprise that he is so popular.
This definition of “swag” has been derived from the word “swagger.”
“To swagger” is to walk or strut in a manner that displays so much confidence that it borders on arrogance and self-importance.
What’s interesting to note is that despite this type of “swag” seeming relatively new, at least in comparison to all the other definitions explored so far, it is actually one of the oldest.
More precisely, we have records of it being used in the 1640s when talking about “hansom swag fellowes.”
“Swag” also owes its popularity to hip-hop. You have several famous rappers who have used the word “swag” in their songs.
For instance, Jay Z says in one of his songs, “Check out my swag, yo. I walk like a ballplayer.”
As a matter of fact, there are several songs that have the word “swag” in their titles, and this is not to mention that there is an actual dance out there called the “swag” dance.
Here are a few songs with swag in the title.
“Turn My Swag On” by Soulja Boy.
“Swag Flu” by Soulja Boy.
“Purple Swag” by ASAP Rocky.
“Swag” by YG.
“Check My Swag” by Chingy.
As we just said, “swag” is also used a lot on social media, especially on Twitter where people use a hashtag along with it. “Swag” is usually used to brag.
Hop upp out of bed, turn my swag onnnnn.
Got so much swag that it’s pumping out my ovaries.
As you can tell, the usage of “swag” online can get pretty obnoxious.
To make matters worse, there was a period when people were using it so liberally that it started irking many.
”Swag” the acronym
Phew. That was a lot to go through. If you’re still with me, we are almost done.
”Swag” to mean “Stuff We All Get”
You remember how we said that “swag” was used to refer to the freebies you got at conferences, seminars, and other events?
Well, even though that definition came about from the original definition of loot or booty, people figured out that there might be another way of interpreting things.
They figured that “swag” might be an acronym for “Stuff We All Get,” and the acronym stuck.
I normally attend expos for all the swag they give out.
”Swag” to mean “Scientific Wild *** Guess”
This is an expression that is prevalent in the business world. A “swag,” which stands for “scientific wild ass guess,” is an estimate or guess made by an expert.
However, rather than being based on the available data and facts, this guess is based on the expert’s intuition and previous experience.
The closest term to it is when one guesstimates, which is a combination of a guess and an estimate.
We brought you in because we need your best swag.
So, why would anyone in the world of business need a scientific wild ass guess?
Well, actually, the term probably first appeared in the American military, either in the Army or in the Air Force.
In fact, according to a journalist named Melvin J. Lasky, there was a US Army General named William Westmoreland who used “swag” plenty of times during the Vietnam War.
However, the term is still used today when a business doesn’t have access to all the facts.
Obviously, it is always better to make a decision based on the facts and the available information, yet, sometimes, that is not an option.
Occasionally, people have to act quickly or they have no way of getting the relevant information.
And, being short on time means they have to act according to a swag instead of carrying out a rigorous analysis.
Furthermore, a swag is better than a wag, which stands for a wild ass guess.
If you’re gonna make a guess, then at least you should make it an educated one and try to base your guess on past experience or any sort of relevant expertise.
If a swag is dangerous, then a wag can spell catastrophe.
”Swag” to mean “Strength, Weaknesses, Actions, and Growth”
The last use of SWAG we will look at today is as an analytical tool that is quite similar to SWOT.
If you don’t know what SWOT is, it is simply a tool that helps you analyze your business’s strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats.
Accordingly, this analysis should give you a better idea of where your business has room for improvement and which new projects it should pursue.
Similarly, the SWAG tool is used to assess the needs of your business. It can come in handy when you’re trying to grow your business and to help it move forward.
The idea is that whereas analyzing strengths gives you a notion of what you can build on, analyzing weaknesses gives you an idea of what are the areas where your business can improve.
Then, defining the necessary actions to move things forward is the next step, and, finally, you should figure out where your business lies on the Business Growth Life Cycle so that you can identify which approaches you should take to move onto the next phase of the cycle.
Your company is no longer a small startup. You should perform a SWAG analysis to figure out how you can take it into the Growth phase.
Hey fellow Linguaholics! It’s me, Marcel. I am the proud owner of linguaholic.com. Languages have always been my passion and I have studied Linguistics, Computational Linguistics and Sinology at the University of Zurich. It is my utmost pleasure to share with all of you guys what I know about languages and linguistics in general.