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My company gives out free promotional items with the company name on it. Is this stuff called company swag or schwag?

It seems that both come up as common usages—Google searching indicates that the bias is slightly towards swag. Can anybody provide any definite proof of the root of the word and which one is more correct?

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Go with "swag". It seems to me that "schwag" is mostly used by obnoxious and annoying radio hosts. –  FrustratedWithFormsDesigner Oct 14 '11 at 18:52
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Why the -1? At least make a comment explaining... –  Luke Oct 14 '11 at 19:01
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It's called swag on Stack Exchange, see e.g. meta.english.stackexchange.com/questions/1353/… –  N.N. Oct 14 '11 at 20:47
    
It's "swag". "Schwag" is just how pirates said "swag" in the old movies. –  user45196 May 30 '13 at 22:42
    
I've never heard the term swag in this context. Is it an Americanism? I think freebies may be more common in the UK? –  TrevorD May 30 '13 at 23:34
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2 Answers 2

up vote 15 down vote accepted

It is called swag, which some people believe stands for "Stuff We All Get" (the more PG version of the two variations).

Another relevant expansion is "Souvenirs, Wearables and Gifts" (ref)

Wiktionary defines swag as

2.Handouts, freebies, or giveaways, such as those handed out at conventions.

It seems that in written English, swag is the way to go:

Swag v shwag v schwag Google ngram showing swag leading by far

Perhaps the most definitive answer stems from an entry in Francis Grose's Classical Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue(1823), with a couple definitions for "swag" including:

SWAG. A bundle, parcel, or package ; as a swag of snow, &c. The swag, is a term used in speaking of any booty you have lately obtained, be it of what kind it may, except money ; as where did you lumber the swag? that is, where did you deposit the stolen property? [...]

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I didn't know that, but I bet it was called 'swag' first by analogy with a burglar's haul, and only later did someone make an acronym of it. –  Barrie England Oct 14 '11 at 19:08
    
en.wiktionary.org/wiki/schwag 2. (slang) cheap giveaway promotional items. I like your answer, but it looks like the general population uses both. I'm curious if one is historical or more correct. I do like "Stuff We All Get" though - sounds like that could be the origin of the term. Perhaps Schwag is just an alteration of that? –  Luke Oct 14 '11 at 19:18
    
It's quite possible. –  Jim Oct 14 '11 at 20:09
    
SWAG, meaning "Stuff we all get," is an example of a backronym. The word existed first and then was misapplied to give-away stuff. The letters of a real word were then used to create an acronym. In short, the word existed, and then the acronym was created from the letters in the word. Backronyms: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Backronym –  David Bowman Oct 15 '11 at 1:00
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@BarrieEngland Looks like you were right. The reference I've just added is from a "classical dictionary of the vulgar tongue" from 1823, and intimates that that is the case. –  Jim Oct 27 '11 at 1:43
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Both are correct, but swag is the earlier word, and the one I would use. It was used for promotional items in 2001. Before this new meaning, I knew it to mean the stuff a thief has stolen (often hauled in a swag bag in cartoons). From etymonline:

The noun sense of "ornamental festoon" is first found 1794. Colloquial sense of "promotional material" (from recording companies, etc.) was in use by 2001; swag was English criminal's slang for "quantity of stolen property, loot" from c.1839. Earlier senses of "bulky bag" (c.1300) and "big, blustering fellow" (1580s) may represent separate borrowings from the Scandinavian source.

Stuff We All Get is a later "backronym".

The first schwag as promo stuff I heard was stickers and so on given out by Flickr mid last decade, as their fun variation of swag.

(See also here for schwag as low grade marijuana, possibly from Yiddish.)

Edit: promotional swag dates back to at least 1961, and promotional schwag to at least 2001: "Of course, one must never underestimate the influence of Wayne’s World [1988-1994] and schwing."

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I had never heard of a swag bag until you mentioned it here. Then I saw it in a web comic today: explosm.net/comics/3196 –  Luke Jun 7 '13 at 12:06
    
@Luke: That's a good example, it shows both meanings of stuff-a-thief-takes and promo stuff. –  Hugo Jun 7 '13 at 13:51
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protected by tchrist Jun 7 '13 at 14:30

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