What Does Swag Mean?

Is Swag an Acronym? And Did Jay-Z Invent It?

A Swag Bag from an Event at a Sandals Resort.

Image (c) Dimitrios Kambouris / Staff / Getty Images

If you enter a lot of sweepstakes, chances are that you'll end up with swag. But have you ever wondered where that word comes from? What does swag mean and how do you get more of it?

Swag's Definition and Origin

Swag is a slang name for promotional items that advertise companies or their products. Examples include:

  • T-shirts and baseball hats with a company's name printed on them.
  • Keychains and refrigerator magnets with a company logo.
  • Product samples.
  • Toys made to look like a company's mascot.
  • Beach towels with a company's motto.

Swag is often themed to match the company's products. Movies might give away posters and props as swag, while adult beverage companies might choose koozies or bottle openers.

Where Does the Word "Swag" Come From?

A lot of websites tell you with great confidence that the word "swag" is an acronym that stands for "Stuff We All Get." They say it comes from trade shows and exhibitions where companies give away promotional items to anyone who'll take them.

However, "Stuff We All Get" isn't an acronym but rather a backronym: a phrase that was created to fit a pre-existing word. There's another backronym for swag, too: "Souvenirs, Wearables, And Gifts."

"Stuff We All Get" and "Souvenirs, Wearables, And Gifts. are much more recent additions to the English language than the word swag itself, which has been around since at least 1303 — hundreds of years before modern trade shows were invented.

Although it sounds like it might, the word "swag" doesn't come from an acronym at all. It's actually a derivation of the Scandinavian word svagga, meaning "to rock unsteadily or lurch," according to Snopes. The word "swagger" is a close relative.

In 1303, swag first appeared in print in the context of moving. By 1794, it was used to mean pirate booty and other ill-gotten gains. Think of a bag of gold swaying from side to side and you can see the connection. Eventually, it came to mean all kinds of goodies.

Did Jay-Z Invent Swag?

As mentioned above, that idea of moving from side to side also gives English the word "swagger," a big, confident stride. This leads us to another modern definition of "swag" — personal style or confidence.

Jay-Z coined this way of using swag on his "Black Album" in 2003 when he sang: "My self-esteem went through the roof, man. I got my swag." Later, he claimed "I invented swag" on Otis, a track from the album "Watch The Throne". However, as established above, he's hundreds of years too late for that to be technically true. He might have coined a modern meaning for the word, but the word itself was around for much longer.

Justin Bieber also used this meaning of swag when he sang "I got money in my hands that I’d really like to blow / Swag swag swag, on you" in his song, "Boyfriend."

Swag and Sweepstakes

Many giveaways offer swag as prizes. Companies get additional mileage for their giveaway dollars by delighting winners and advertising their business simultaneously.

Some examples of swag that has been given away in real giveaways include hundreds of pool floaties made to look like Colonel Sanders in a KFC giveaway and thousands upon thousands of wiener car squeaky toys given away by Oscar Mayer.

Most swag has a fairly low value, but that's not always the case. Some larger swag prizes include branded Bluetooth speakers and luggage. And if you attend a celebrity event, a big awards ceremony, or a TED conference, you can expect a swag bag worth thousands of dollars. For example, the 2021 Oscars swag bag was worth about $205,000.

Want to Win Swag? Here Are Some Tips

Swag has benefits for sweepstakes sponsors who profit from the free advertising they bring. But they're a lot of fun to win as well, especially since sponsors often give away a lot of them. And some of the swag companies give away is both funny and useful.

If you want to try your hand at winning free swag, start with the list of sweepstakes with lots of prizes. These sweepstakes have better odds of winning because so many prizes are given away, and swag is often among the possibilities. 

You can also check the fashion and jewelry sweepstakes list for t-shirts, baseball caps, and other wearable swag. Instant-win giveaways are another place to look for swag giveaways.

When promotors put swag bags together for major awards shows, they occasionally make extras for giveaways. So if you're not lucky enough to be on the guest up, pay attention to the times leading up to and just after the Oscars, the Golden Globes, and other big award shows. Those are good times to be on the lookout for free swag bags.