Every once in awhile I think the meaning of slang words becomes so ingrained that we tend to forget the origin or evolution. Or in some cases I feel the meanings of two similar slang words intersect and become interchangeable to the point that no one knows which one to use. Such is the case with the usage of ‘swag’ versus ‘schwag.’
For a long time, I always thought that it was simple: swag is free stuff, like when a promoter sends you a cd or those gift bags they give Oscar nominees. Meanwhile, my former hippie high school days informs me that schwag is bad pot. Easy right?
So for some reason it drives me crazy when someone refers to free stuff as ‘schwag.’ Seemed to me like they were confusing the meanings. So I tried to get internet verification. Unfortunately the closest reputable source was Urban Dictionary, which is not quite official sounding, but often at least up to date on latest slang trends. Here’s what I found:
1. appearance, style, or the way he or she presents themselves.
To move over an area of surface with confidence, appearance, and style by taking steps with the feet at a pace slower than a run.
v. swagged, swagg-ing, swags
He got a killa swag.
2. Promotional merchandise for a band, record label, or other entity in the music business, usually distributed at concerts.
May include t-shirts, stickers, promo CDs, posters, etc. Often free, but not necessarily; a t-shirt or record purchased at a concert might still be considered swag, especially if it is a design or release that is not readily available in the mass market.
Many independent record labels throw in a handful of free swag when they ship out mail-order packages (stickers, sampler CDs, etc).
The chief difference between swag and regular merchandise is that its purpose is not to make a profit, but to promote the band/label, and reward its supporters by giving them something cool and unique.
I picked up some great swag at the concert last night.
1. Term used to describe low grade marijuana.
This type of marijuana is usually brown, seedy, dry. The term is also used by many pot heads to describe anything that is low grade.
I hate smoking schwag, but i cant get any dank right now so i guess i’ll have to.
2. Any free or extra goods, usually given to employees or workers.
Then on the etymology blog Take Our Word I found this which discusses the potential connections between the two words:
…it did suggest a Yiddish influence on the variant pronunciations of swag AND on the derivation of schwag “low-grade [weak] marijuana”. We did not get to continue our research into the Yiddish word at the time, but we did happen to find it tonight: shvakh “weak”. The existence of that word does make plausible the connection between Yiddish and shwag/schwag. It certainly doesnâ€™t prove the connection, but it definitely suggests that further research in this area is required.
They also reference an older article which says:
In the 17th century we find swag recorded as slang for a shop that sold cheap trinkets. Then by the late 18th century we find it with the meaning “a thief’s plunder or booty” – those same cheap trinkets? Today’s equivalent would be the plush toy animal prizes that line carnival game stalls. So it appears that the cheap promotional items one gets at movie publicity parties and auto shows were equated with the cheap stuff given as prizes at carnival game booths or the trinkets sold at cheap stores, and so named.
As you can see, while not totally conclusive, for the most part I was right… and yet the second definition of schwag implies I am ALSO wrong. This does not however even get to the fact that ‘schwag’ can be ‘swag’ if you get it in the mail from a promoter. I imagine that the pot reviewers at the classy magazine High Times, get schwag as swag all the time…much like music reviewers get free cds.
So when it comes to referring to promotional items, which is it? Can anyone else settle this debate? (Obviously I’m bored out of my mind.)