[Ads-l] swag or s-w-a-g?

Ben Zimmer bgzimmer at GMAIL.COM
Tue Nov 13 11:44:16 EST 2018

On Tue, Nov 13, 2018 at 11:19 AM David Daniel <dad at coarsecourses.com> wrote:

> I've just been reading on Dictionary.com that "swag," in the sense of free
> stuff you get at an event, is an internet acronym for "stuff we all get."
> Now, I'm willing to believe that as a pop-etymology backronym, but surely
> the origin is in the pirate meaning of "loot." In fact, we used to call
> free
> stuff we got at an event "loot," (also Halloween candy and the like) which,
> it happens, has also been called swag for a long time. I prefer to believe
> (no proof, mind you, just pure conjecture) that swag's new popularity
> started up with the pirate movies starting in the early naughts, or that,
> whatever the timing, it comes from loot and then got backronymed to
> s-w-a-g.
> Does anyone have any dates on when swag started to appear in this sense? Or
> any other info on the matter? Enquiring minds want to know.

Your instincts are correct. The New York Times Sunday Styles section got
suckered in by the "SWAG" acro-etymythology in 2011 and had to issue a

Correction: October 9, 2011
Because of an editing error, an article on Sept. 25 about acronyms
misstated the derivation of the word "swag," in a reference to gifts given
to celebrities at New York Fashion Week. The Oxford English Dictionary
dates its first citation, as a term for a thief’s plunder, from 1794; it
only recently has been interpreted as an acronym for "stuff we all get."

As noted by Nancy Friedman:

...and Larry Horn on this list:

In a thread the following month, it was noted that "swag' in the sense of
"items given away free" is dated by the OED to 1961.


As for the "stuff we all get" acronym, the earliest I can find is from 1998
on Usenet, though it was clearly in wide circulation by then:

Mick Addison Smith, rec.arts.theatre.stagecraft, Mar. 9, 1998
It's always been my impression that SWAG was an acronym for 'Stuff We All
Get'. At least that's what a guy that works at Vari*Lite had said.
Ronald Beal, rec.arts.theatre.stagecraft, Mar. 9, 1998
I always heard that it stood for Stuff We All Get, or Stuff We Ain't
Getting, depending on the show.  (however I suspect the "loot" origion is
the correct one
Stu Tygert, rec.arts.theatre.stagecraft, Mar. 10, 1998
Two versions I've heard:
Stuff We All Got
Stuff We Ain't Getting


The American Dialect Society - http://www.americandialect.org

More information about the Ads-l mailing list