Dear Readers and Verbivores,
Lately, I have spent considerable time (and $$$) purchasing swag to help promote my book, Nutmeg Street: Egyptian Secrets. Loving words as I do, I started wondering about the origin of the word “swag.”
Swag as a word has a fascinating history. According to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary and/or smspantherpress.wordpress.com, the word has been traced to Scandinavia in the 14th century when swag meant “bag.”
By 16th century England, it had come to mean “a blustering, lewd person,” usually someone who was rich and wasteful and couldn’t care less if he spilled goods from a bag he carried. Some thought swag was short for “swagger,” meaning walking or behaving in an overly confident and typically arrogant or aggressive way.
Shakespeare resurrected swag in the late 17th century when his character Puck spoke it in A Midsummer NIght’s Dream–not in a complimentary way! By then, it had evolved to also mean “a bulging, swaying belly.”
By 18th century England, swag was slang among thieves for “a bag of stolen loot or goods.” You can probably see how this came to be, considering the word’s history.
Of course, the word swag caught on in the U.S. By the 1960s, it meant “a tote bag with promotional items,” a meaning that is alive and growing today.
But swag really took off in the 21st century when Hip Hop culture coined the phrase Turn your swag on. Translation: “sense of self-confidence and style.” In fact, Jay-Z is often credited with popularizing swag as a term in North America with his songs, “All I Need,” and “Swagga Like Us.” In addition, Sean Combs temporarily changed his name to Swag. And swag was the Hip Hop Word of the Year in 2011.
Some people believe that swag is an acronym, standing for “Stuff We All Get.” Nowhere is that more true (if you’re rich and famous) than at the Academy Awards. Swag bags given to the Oscar nominees continue to grow in value yearly. Want a $1,000 bottle of balsamic Italian vinaigrette? Maybe a $135 bejeweled bottle of hand sanitizer? A $280 bottle of organic maple syrup? Or a $45,000 African safari? Get nominated for an Oscar, and the swag is yours!
So get a clue, Readers. Watch for other words that represent our living, evolving language. And don’t forget to pick up your swag bag, which might be heavier than your Oscar!