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“Swag” is an internet slang term often found in comments, discussion forums and image macros used as a synonym for “swagger,” a type of style or presence that exudes confidence and is sometimes interpreted as arrogance.
According to the Online Etymology Dictionary, the word “swag” originated sometime in the 1520s and meant “to move heavily or unsteadily.” It may have been a derivative of the verb “swing”, which originated from the word “sway” around 1300, meaning “to go, glide, move.” In modern context, “swag” may be used as a business lingo for promotional merchandise but its online usage has been largely attributed to its root word “swagger,” which Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines as:
1 : to conduct oneself in an arrogant or superciliously pompous manner; especially : to walk with an air of overbearing self-confidence
2 : Boast, brag
The earliest documented use of “swagger” can be found in the text of English poet William Shakespeare’s play A Midsummer Night’s Dream written sometime between 1590 and 1596.
What hempen home-spuns have we swaggering here,
So near the cradle of the fairy queen?
Usage in Hip Hop
The word “swagger” saw a modern resurgence through its usage in hip hop lyrics, beginning with rapper Jay-Z’s song “All I Need” (shown below) from his sixth studio album The Blue Print released on September 11th, 2001. Since then, the word has been frequently used in various hip hop songs as part of braggadocio-style rapping, which is characterized by self-bragging and boasting one’s own skills or prowess.
Other notable mentions of “swagger” in hip hop music include rapper Pharrell’s 2006 bonus track “Swagger International” and T.I.’s 2008 single “Swagga Like Us” featuring Jay-Z. The word was further popularized by Soulja Boy who released the single “Pretty Boy Swag” (shown below, left) on June 4th, 2010, and Lil B who released “Wonton Soup” (shown below, right) in August of 2010:
Over 1385 definition entries relating to the word “swag” have been submitted to Urban Dictionary, including notable derivatives like “swagalicious,” “swag juice” and “swagger jack.” The top rated Urban Dictionary definition for “swag” was submitted on July 31st, 2006 by user MIKE fresh:
swag: appearance ,style ,or the way he or she presents them selves.
He got a killa swag.
On April 6th, 2011, BuzzFeed posted a screenshot of a tweet from a Will Ferrell parody Twitter account which has since been deleted:
On May 20th, 2011, BuzzFeed published a post about American rapper Sean ‘P. Diddy’ Combs changing his named to “Swag” for one week. On May 23rd, Gawker published an article by staff writer Adrian Chen titled “The Old Person’s Guide to ‘Swag’”, which was inspired by the Sean Combs announcement. On Facebook, there are dozens of fan pages with thousands of likes with titles containing the word “swag.” On Tumblr, a wide variety of posts can be found under the tag “#swag.” The “Swag or no Swag” Tumblr contains photos for viewers to vote on whether or not the image contains “swag” and the “Baby Swag” Tumblr features photos of fashionable children.
As of January 25th, 2012, the page for “I Hate It When I Got To Bed And Forget To Turn My Swag Off” has 251,275 likes, the two Facebook groups for “Loading Swag… ████████████████ 100% Complete” have a combined total of 435,000 likes and the group “Got swag? nah bro tent” has 40,439 likes.
On May 26th, 2011 The Atlantic published an article titled “Is ‘Swag’ Here to Stay?” which speculated on the longevity of the word and included a statement from Geoffrey Nunberg, a linguist at UC Berkeley’s School of Information:
He says chances are slim that “swag” will endure the way “cool” has. “Cool,” he explains, is an anomaly, the very rare slang word that has survived a pattern of cultural transferal, making its way from the 1920s jazz era to the ’50s beat generation through writers like Norman Mailer and Chandler Brossard, to 60s-era hippies, from surfer subculture to nerdspeak to rap, and on and on.
On October 28th, the Global Grind posted an article titled “Stop Misusing The Word Swag!” complaining about the indiscriminate use of the word in social media like Twitter and Facebook. NPR ran a feature on All Things Considered that claimed swag was “hip-hop’s word of the year” on December 26th, 2011 .
Search query volume for the keyword “swag” saw a significant increase in early 2009.