People on the internet have been alternating between excessive incorrect usage of the word swag and frustrating confusion over its meaning. And no, those stupid acronyms aren’t funny or accurate. I’m here to shed some light.
The English definition of the word swag is an ornamental arrangement of flowers, fruit and greenery. So yes, from a linguistics point of view, the little kids online posting swag pictures sound very stupid now.
Forgive me the shoddy work, I was too lazy to open Photoshop so I did this with an online editor. Anyway, swag can also be slang for loot, promotional items or a bundle of belongings.
These days, swag has taken on a new meaning that is roughly encapsulated by the synonyms “attitude” and “style”. However, I have seen some ridiculous usages of the word swag that not only violate their English definition, but also have nothing to do with their new “definition”.
As for how the word came to be used in this way, I’m not absolutely certain but based on my understanding, it originated from the LA style dance scene in which studio dancers would compliment their peers on having “swag”, as well as by throwing kicks and caps at them, which was basically the shortened form of swagger (moving with attitude and confidence). I heard this term used frequently when I started getting into LA style about four or five years ago, which (I think) pre-dates the incorrect usage of the word now. Keep in mind, LA dancers were probably using that word long before I started getting into it, so I’m quite certain this is the origin of the contemporary usage of “swag”.
Now, how did the word spread outside of the dance scene? Hip hop artists like Chris Brown sometimes associate with LA dancers. Ian Eastwood choreographed for “Cat Daddy” (that’s what he told us at his workshop anyway) and I’m sure many other dancers frequently work behind the scenes for singers. In addition to dancing, they adopted the LA style’s clothing and eventually, their language. That includes the word swag. These hip hop artists then spread the word “swag” to the mainstream through their music. As we all know, the mainstream comprises of 99.99% impressionable idiots lacking any sense of their own identity, and as a result, they were all quick to jump on the “cool wagon” like ignorant, mindless zombies.
Now, I profess to using the word swag in its new definition too, but that’s only because I use it in a street dance sense. I don’t want to sound like a self-entitled prick but I think I’m allowed to use it more than some kid who uses it as an excuse to drop out of school, knock up some girl, work a minimum wage job to pay for her and the child, get divorced because it’s too tough and pay child support, bounce between minimum wage jobs for the rest of his adult life, and die a lonely man. Oh, but a lonely man with “swag”, apparently.