Printable Version
Pronunciation: swæg Hear it!

Part of Speech: Noun

Meaning: 1. A long, baggy, but gracefully drooping object, such as a horizontal drape, festoon, or even a decorative draping of fruit or flowers. 2. Loot, the 'take' from a robbery. 3. (Australian) A bag or pack containing personal belongings. 4. A lurching walk or movement, a lurch.

Notes: A drooping drape is a swag, plural swags. Swag in the sense of "loot", however, cannot be pluralized. The only derivation from this word is swagman, which arose in Australia during the Great Depression. It originally referred to a transient or 'hobo' but went on to refer to anyone carrying a bag containing personal belongings.

In Play: We usually think of a swag as a puffy, drooping horizontal drape or curtain: "Morris hid his girlie magazines in the living room swag until his mother did her spring cleaning." Actually, you might think of Morris's magazines as swag of a different kind. Swag of this kind is often found around the home, even among sisters: "Leticia, this morning I found a trove of swag in your closet that came from my closet!"

Word History: So, how did this word come to have so many meanings? It started out in the 13th century meaning a bulging bag. Since the contents of such bags were often personal, hence private, possessions, it was but a hop, skip, and a jump to the sense of "loot". By the 16th century this word was used to refer to a blustering braggart in the sense of "a bag of hot air, a bag of lies". Now, a blustering braggart tends to swagger, right? Well, in the 16th century they did and that swagger was made up of lurching movements. Of course, well positioned swag draperies or festoons give the appearance of a filled bag, too. However, their drooping shape led directly in the 1960s to the use of this word as a constituent in the phrase swag lamp. Few words have traveled so many semantic roads on their journey to Modern English. (Let's thank Allie Kennell for suggesting swag as an intriguing addition to the lexical swag of the Good Word collection.)

Dr. Goodword,

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