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Liam McDevitt

November 20, 2014

AP Literature
Mrs. Herzog
Think You Know What Swag Means? Think Again!
Swag! What comes to mind when you hear the word swag? Is it a tatted-up man
with a hat turned sideways, walking down the street with pants that are 10 sizes too big,
and covered in more gold and jewelry than the queen of England? Thanks to the idiolect
of modern society, this is probably the image that first penetrates the mind. This was not
swags intended use however; as its denotations vary from a fruit or floral arrangement
all the way to a big blustering fellow.
The etymology of swag began when it was first recorded in 1303. Its definition
then, far different from the meanings that you and I are used to, meant simply a big bulgy
bag. Swag is believed to be derived from the Scandinavian word svagg, which meant a
big, strong person. This is most likely where swags definition of a big blustering fellow
comes from. In the Scandinavian culture, svagg would have been used to describe their
male warriors who were essentially the superstars and celebrities of that period, not
unlike the individuals who are described as having swag today (but more on that later).
Swag also had another definition of a hanging wreath or festoon of flowers, and was
first used in this context 1795; by the 20th century swag was used to describe any hanging
object. Separate from the previous denotation, another definition of swag developed in
the 1700s, and having swag meant that you had a quantity of money or goods that
were unlawfully obtained. This is the first time in swags history that it undertook a

negative connotation (a complete contrast of the positive connotation that it would have
donned when describing Scandinavian warriors). This use is parallel with many of swags
synonyms, those being booty, money, and spoils. Money and spoils, however, do
not have the same illegal connotation that swag has. While swag and spoils can both
refer to treasures or money, spoils can be obtained through a fair victory, whereas swag
usually represented the reward of an illegal endeavor. However, swag has taken on a
completely new meaning in todays society.
We have modern musical artists such as Jay-Z, Kanye West, and Soulja Boy to
thank for the re-birth of this old word in our modern society. We also have such artists to
thank for its new definition, completely different from its official denotations. According
to a Jay-Z and Kanye West song titled Otis, Jay-Z says, I (Jay-Z) invented swag.
Poppin bottles, putting supermodels in the cab. Jay-Z is using the word swag to
describe his lifestyle and the things he does. Soulja Boy, an American rapper, has
multiple songs using the word swag such as Turn My Swag On and Pretty Boy
Swag. He is also known for dressing in large baggy and saggy clothing, donning gold
chains and other jewelry, and wearing hats turned sideways that appear to be hanging
off his head. It is in this way that swag has picked up a meaning of hanging loose, to
sag. Hanging loose being represented by Jay-Zs rich and carefree lifestyle. The sag
aspect also fits many of the fashion choices that these artists, such as Soulja Boy, choose
to represent. While these artists certainly intended to give swag a cool connotation with
a new definition of being carefree and hanging loose, this was not entirely accomplished
as swag can now be used positively and negatively.

Nowadays, depending on where you live, swag can mean a plethora of different
things. In certain ghetto or poor inner-city situations, swag can mean the exact
definition that rappers intended it to mean: a carefree lifestyle, dressing in ridiculously
large clothing, and wearing chains on chains on chains. In richer communities, such as
suburban areas, swag has taken on a whole new meaning that is quite the opposite of
certain rappers intentions. In these wealthier areas, Westport being a prime example,
swag is used to ridicule or mock someone or something in a sarcastic tone. Phrases
such as oh swag dude! or wow you have so much swag are used as sarcastic insults
or in jeering exchanges between friends. In these areas, swag seldom takes on a
positive connotation, and is rarely used to actually compliment someone or describe
someone in a positive light. This contrast in the definition and use of swag, which
varies from area to area, only furthers the debate as to what is swags actual definition
in todays society? The answer is a simple one, in that there is no correct usage of swag
in society today. One could argue that swags meaning is obviously is official
denotation, and while this may be true, it does not account for the various ways in which
it is used by everyday people. These everyday people are the reason that swag has so
many different meanings and usages, as it varies today purely from person to person and
from community to community.
So what does swag mean to you? Is it an insult? A compliment? A fashion
choice? Or something entirely different? Does it take on a positive connotation? Or a
negative one? For me, my personal idiolect of swag is one that is on par with its
common use in wealthier suburban communities (most likely due to the fact that I live in
one of these exact areas). When I use the word swag (and I rarely do), it is usually the

sarcastic insult or reaction to something idiotic or puerile that one of my friends has done.
Hearing the large hip-hop and rap communities use swag in a whole different way has
never influenced my perception on the word. This is most likely because rappers outside
influence on me have never been strong or big enough to rewrite the idea that I hold in
my mind, of my own personal view on swag, which has been fabricated and sculpted by
the community in which I live. That being said, my personal take on swag does not
even begin to represent a standard definition or use across the globe. And thus, due to the
large diversity of the human race, the exact definition and usage of swag will vary,
from country to country, from city to city, from community to community, and from
person to person.

Works Cited

"Swag, N." : Oxford English Dictionary. Web. 21 Nov. 2014.


"Swag." Etymology of. Web. 21 Nov. 2014.

""Otis" Lyrics." KANYE WEST LYRICS. Web. 21 Nov. 2014.

"Soulja Boy." Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, 19 Nov. 2014. Web. 21 Nov.

2014. <>.
"I Found Great Synonyms for "swag" on the New!" Web. 21 Nov. 2014.