Explaining the long, historical origins of the word "swag’
Over the years, the term “swag,” known to some as an acronym for the “Stuff We All Get,” has become as ingrained a part of my vocabulary as the word “bicycle.”
There is, actually, a direct correlation of the two words. When you are done with a mountain bike race, you usually find yourself at a small awards festival where free bike parts and accessories are given to top finishers.
I’ve even discovered over the last year that the term is even more prevalent in the cold weather. At ski races, the goodies are not given away based on finishes, but rather on participation, so “swag” becomes even a truer representation of “Stuff We All Get.” I’m so used to this tendency to call free stuff “swag,” that it perplexes me when someone comes along and reveals that he or she has never heard of the word. The first time this happened to me, I pondered only briefly over the word’s origins, but I didn’t hang on to that thought long enough to lose any sleep.
But the other night, as I slowly absorbed the words and thoughts of J.R.R. Tolkien’s “Return of the King,” I stumbled across “swag” in a descriptive passage of raggety clothing when Samwise Gamgee is trying to save Frodo Baggins from torture and death in the top of a high tower in Mordor.
It was then that I learned that this particular use of the word to describe free stuff has fairly deep roots, as “Return of the King,” if I’m not mistaken, was written long before mountain bikes had even been invented.
I don’t recall the word being used in the movie, which I’ve seen twice, but we’re talking about the book here. In applying my deductive reasoning, I assumed that if it fit into J.R.R. Tolkien’s vocabulary, it probably fit into Webster’s.
In Webster’s “New Universal Unabridged Dictionary,” the word appears with a definition that is as simple as “booty.” It includes multiple definitions, the least important being the Scandanavian-inspired definitions that explain that a swag is a wreath or a tendency to sway back and forth.
I’m talking about the “Stuff We All Get” here, though, and in that respect, to go with the definition of plunder or booty, we find that a swag is that bundle of food and goodies slung over the shoulder on a stick by your average garden-variety hobo.
And that’s exactly how I carry my awards away from a mountain bike race.
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