[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:

----
https://www.nytimes.com/2011/09/25/fashion/alphabet-soup.html
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:
https://nancyfriedman.typepad.com/away_with_words/2011/09/swag-and-schwag.html

...and Larry Horn on this list:
http://listserv.linguistlist.org/pipermail/ads-l/2011-October/113381.html

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.

http://listserv.linguistlist.org/pipermail/ads-l/2011-November/114243.html

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:

----
https://groups.google.com/d/msg/rec.arts.theatre.stagecraft/8YPGfXP_uqA/LJiU4Bm--j0J
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.
----
https://groups.google.com/d/msg/rec.arts.theatre.stagecraft/8YPGfXP_uqA/x7wbeqCHPy4J
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
----
https://groups.google.com/d/msg/rec.arts.theatre.stagecraft/8YPGfXP_uqA/jD7Hrg1n3qIJ
Stu Tygert, rec.arts.theatre.stagecraft, Mar. 10, 1998
Two versions I've heard:
Stuff We All Got
Stuff We Ain't Getting
----

--bgz

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