From Shakespeare to Hip Hop: The Evolution of “Swag”

Dear Readers and Verbivores,

Lately, I have spent considerable time (and $$$) purchasing swag to help promote my book, Nutmeg Street: Egyptian SecretsLoving 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, 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!



Pumpkin Lore Galore!

Dear Readers and Pumpkin Lovers,

Right about this time each year, my mind starts thinking PUMPKINS. They’re everywhere! In large cardboard bins in front of grocery stores. On greeting cards that were on display before August ended. In candy form at CVS and See’s Candies. Pumpkin Spice Lattes at Starbucks. You get the idea. My attention to the nutritious orange orb, however, has much to do with three events: fall harvest time, the approach of Halloween, and my fond memories of carving jack o’ lanterns with a variety of grimaces. Then, my twin sister, cousin, and I would set them aglow with real candles on the front porch to ward off evil spirits prior to heading out to Trick or Treat.

Some of my current fascination centers on recipes containing pumpkin. In fact, stay tuned for the October 31st Newsletter where Moki will feature one of his favorite, delicious pumpkin recipes!

But did you know that there are many legends about pumpkins? Some are from Native Americans. I googled “pumpkin folklore,” and below is a partial list of what I found. And did you know that Pumpkin Festivals abound worldwide? Check those out on Google. And get your orange-colored glasses ready.

So get a clue, Readers. If you like pumpkins for whatever reason, check out some of these fascinating stories. Or better yet, write one of your own, and share it with me. I will be glowing with anticipation.

Recommended Books of Pumpkin Stories from Native American Myth and Legend

Princess Scargo and the Birthday Pumpkin:
Children’s book illustrating a Native American pumpkin story of New England.
The Sun’s Daughter:
Picture book for kids based on an Iroquois legend about the three sisters Maize, Red Bean, and Pumpkin.

Native Plant Stories:
Excellent collection of Native American folklore about plants, by Abenaki storyteller Joseph Bruchac.
Buffalo Bird Woman’s Garden:
Interesting book about Native American farming traditions narrated by a Hidatsa woman.
Native American Food Plants:
Comprehensive book on the names and traditional uses of food plants throughout Native North America.




Summer Leaves, so . . . Autumn Leaves?

Dear Readers, Gardeners, and Botanists,

The other day, I was staring up at an impending, annual avalanche. Thousands of leaves! The deciduous devil in my neighbors’ yard is a liquid amber tree. Its thickest foliage overhangs my back fence and soars high above my rooftop. As usual, I gave a sigh and had my rake at the ready. Then, an idea occurred to me. I decided to thwart the deluge! With my kind, cooperative neighbors’ approval, my gardener relieved the tree of a number of its leaf-laden boughs. Yay! Why didn’t I think to do this years ago?

Few outside of San Diego understand that we really do have seasons here. They’re just more subtle. According to the calendar, summer leaves us on September 23rd though our summer heat here lasts until Halloween! That doesn’t stop the swelling piles of autumn leaves, however. In fact, the dry desert winds that buffet us from the East each October may hasten the Crunch Fest.

So get a clue, Readers. Since I can devote more time to writing this autumn and less to raking, maybe a plant-themed mystery will emerge for our detectives to solve! After all, we are talking about Botanic Hill, aren’t we?



In a Comma Coma

Dear Readers, Writers, and Grammar Police Officers,

I have spent the last week poring over my formatted copy of Nutmeg Street: Egyptian Secrets for the second time. (This doesn’t count the 100 times before formatting.) My goal is to catch every error I can so the public doesn’t have to. To my horror, I have found that I am guilty of comma abuse! My mind has been whirling in commas such that I have thought of little else. You might say I am officially in a Comma Coma!

How could those pesky punctuation marks have sneaked in initially and gone undetected for so long??? My excuses are that in my rush to get my thoughts down when composing my story, the rules of commas flew out of my head; and, I’ve been too close to my own work for some time now to see the superfluous little devils. I am no longer capable of doing a “fresh eyes” read.

In my defense as an English major and literacy teacher, I really DO know comma rules:

  • Never in restrictive clauses but always in nonrestrictive clauses;
  • Between two independent clauses but never before a dependent clause;
  • With coordinating adjectives but never with cumulative adjectives;
  • Not in essential appositives but always in nonessential appositives.

The list goes on, but I won’t bore you with any more!  (That comma after “on” is correctly placed, by the way.) But I will regain consciousness, and my work will be better for my present delirium.

So get a clue, Everyone. Errors happen in writing! Be prepared to read, reread, and reread your work again! (Yes, that’s a beloved Oxford comma after “reread.” It stays.) And don’t be afraid to ask some Fresh Eyes to read your work, too. It just might prevent a Comma Coma.



Dear Readers,

It’s September–that time of year when my mind naturally wanders to BB&B. No, not “Bed, Bath, & Beyond”! And also not “Better Bed and Breakfast.”

I’m talking, of course, about Bulletin Boards and Books.

Regarding the first two Bs: Every September since I retired from teaching in 2013, I reflect on how as an educator, I would be proudly gazing right about now at my newly created classroom Bulletin Boards. I hoped they would be welcoming for my new crop of students and give them a hint as to what my literacy class would involve. For example, one of my favorites was “The Six + One Traits for Great Writing” from Ruth Culham’s model. I taught kids the seven traits all year, and we watched those tools help us improve our fiction and nonfiction prose and poetry. I would post the students’ final drafts on that board, invite the principal and parents in, and serve cookies or brownies for our Publishing Party. I got lots of writing practice, too, because I would always do the same project along with the kids. (They loved hearing about–and seeing–my ups and downs as a writer!)

Now, to the third B: No more bulletin boards these days, for better or for worse. In my new profession as an author, my mind has shifted to Books, especially those I’m writing. I’m proud to have finished three so far! Work on the fourth, however, in my Botanic Hill Detectives Mysteries has gotten shoved to the back burner since my energies must currently be focused on getting Nutmeg Street: Egyptian Secrets into readers’ hands and hearts by February 1, 2020.

So get a clue, Readers. Watch for books in my series to appear slowly but surely. As to bulletin boards, hmmm . . . I wonder what I could put up as a backdrop for those upcoming book signings?



Sari . . . or Not?

Dear Readers,

It’s time to meet the fourth and last–but not least–of the Botanic Hill Detectives, thirteen-year-old Rani Kumar!

Rani moved to Las Palmitas, California, from her native India when she was five years old. Her father, Devi Kumar, is a professor of geology at the local university. Her mother, Gajara Kumar, is an airline manager at the city’s international airport. Rani and Lexi are best friends, live only two streets apart on Botanic Hill, and know so much about one another.

One thing Lexi was surprised to learn was that Rani is a synesthete. That’s someone with synesthesia, an extra sensory ability where one sense, for example hearing a word or name, triggers something else, such as a taste or smell. That’s Rani’s type, and it’s called lexical-gustatory (word to taste) synesthesia. It’s very rare. About 0.2% of the world’s population has lexical-gustatory synesthesia. Rani enjoys what she considers her special gift and likes to try to use it to help solve the squad’s cases.

During a mystery, Rani will sometimes drift away in thought. When, she returns, she has just the right idea to help the group. She can be quiet and reflective one minute, then snap her fingers and loudly express her feelings or ideas the next. You can count on her to keep things running smoothly on the case since she quickly shuts down occasional spats among the squad members.There is an air of mystery, gracefulness, and intelligence about her that she brings to each case. She does, however, enjoy teasing Moki–especially about snakes.

Rani is the smallest of the four detectives, very athletic, and a fast runner. Her long, wavy black hair is often in a thick braid or ponytail. She loves wearing saris, the beautiful draped-fabric costume of some women and girls of India. Her grandmother, who lives with the family, makes Rani’s saris by hand, and the girl is very proud of them. She’s usually wise enough to know when to wear a sari, and when to choose Western dress instead for working on a case. She enjoys painting henna tattoos on Lexi’s arms and telling her BFF stories about life in India.

So get a clue, Readers. Since I, too, have lexical-gustatory synesthesia, many of Rani’s name-to-food associations will actually be mine! Watch for Rani’s use of synesthesia and her other gifts as she and her fellow detectives try to solve the mystery of Nutmeg Street: Egyptian Secrets.