According to Oxford Online Dictionary, the word swish means among other things:

Basketball, informal: a shot that goes through the basket without touching the backboard or rim.

It sounds like a great shot in basketball that doesn't touch anything at all.

I have just watched the Big Bang Theory, Season 8 Episode 2, and the following conversations take place.

Wolowitz: So, Penny, when's the new job start?

Penny: Next Monday.

Bernadette: Did you get a chance to look over the materials I gave you?

Penny: Uh, not yet, but I will.

Bernadette: Great. When?

Penny: I said I'll get to it.

Sheldon Cooper: I'm sensing awkwardness, am I right?

Amy Farrah Fowler: Yes.

Sheldon Cooper: Swish.

Bernadette: I don't want to be pushy, but you've never done pharmaceutical sales before. It seems like you could use this time to get a head start.

Penny: Well, the first few weeks will be all training. They'll tell me everything I need to know.

Bernadette: But imagine how impressed they'd be if you showed up already familiar with the material.

The context is Bernadette used her influence to get Penny a sales job at a pharmaceutical company and Bernadette is (kinda) insisting that Penny should read and study the materials (she gave to her) so that Penny can get familiarized with many unknown terms related with the pharmaceutical industry.

I can understand what swish means in the context using the definition of Oxford Online Dictionary I quoted at the beginning of this question. However, my questions are:

  1. What does swish mean exactly in the context?

  2. What is its etymology?

I read this question, What does “Swish of skirt” mean? Why is it a sexist expression?, but it doesn't answer my question.

  • 1
    There’s also “swish and flick” in Harry Potter…
    – mirabilos
    Commented Dec 27, 2015 at 1:59
  • isn't swish an onomatopoeia for something zooming by?
    – user13267
    Commented Dec 27, 2015 at 4:13
  • See the verb swish and its definition in Oald. Of course, you can use "swish" as a sound-imitating interjection. oxfordlearnersdictionaries.com/definition/english/…
    – rogermue
    Commented Dec 27, 2015 at 9:47

3 Answers 3


'swish' is just onomatopoeia for the ball not touching the rim, only the net as it goes through, making a swishing sound. It's not a noun or verb. It's the word for the sound it makes.

The implication of the word is that Sheldon did something really well, something without any flaws at all. It is not a common thing to say, but is immediately understandable.

Another similar thing to say with the same meaning is descriptive "nothing but net" (much more common).

  • 1
    I remember when nothing but net entered a heyday of sorts, back when this commercial aired.
    – J.R.
    Commented Dec 26, 2015 at 19:43
  • @Drew oops....fixed.
    – Mitch
    Commented Dec 27, 2015 at 3:14
  • It's understandable seen in action. I'm guessing Sheldon uses a hand gesture, or turns his head quickly.
    – Mari-Lou A
    Commented Dec 27, 2015 at 8:57

Sheldon is using the phrase to celebrate his accuracy in guessing that there was awkwardness in the situation. Just as a basketball player makes a perfectly accurate shot, his comment was a particularly accurate reading of the situation. People use the expression "nailed it!" It a similar way. It's a very informal usage.

  • 4
    +1 And the etymology: "Swish" is onomatopoeic, the hissing sound a ball makes going through the net, without the "bump" of hitting the backboard or the "clunk" of hitting the rim. Commented Dec 26, 2015 at 19:21
  • 3
    "Swish" is also the sound made by a skirt twirling, a sled sliding down a snowy hill, and many other things. Only when used in a context that alludes to the basketball "swish" does is mean "Nailed it!". It can also mean "that swished right past you, didn't it?", among other things. One would have to be in tune with the context to say for sure.
    – Hot Licks
    Commented Dec 26, 2015 at 20:15
  • @Hot Licks: "that swished right past you, didn't it?" Huh, I've always heard whoosh used in that context, never swish.
    – user1635
    Commented Dec 27, 2015 at 6:08
  • 1
    @Rahul - Swish, whoosh, zoom, and several others are onomatopoeic terms that are used fairly interchangeably to describe things moving rapidly past or whirling around. Different people will have different favorites.
    – Hot Licks
    Commented Dec 27, 2015 at 14:10

Other answers already covered the meaning: Sheldon is celebrating that he got it right. Not just right, but exactly right.

"Bullseye" would be another, very similar phrase used to denote getting something exactly right. However, "swish" is perhaps the more common (but still informal) phrase to use when congratulating oneself on a successful attempt at something, which is what Sheldon is doing.

Haven't watched the show, but I imagine he might also be pretending to throw a basketball as he says it. Whether or not he does, the metaphor is that he threw the ball (asked if he was correctly reading the situation), and not only did he score but he did so flawlessly, the ball going straight through the basket, making a "swish" sound.

In the gif below (from the show Futurama), the character Fry is similarly celebrating getting an answer right in class, though he was mostly just guessing.


Please ignore the disgruntled monkey wearing a hat

  • 2
    "Bingo!" is another one.
    – Drew
    Commented Dec 27, 2015 at 3:46

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