What Does Swag Mean? Definition, Examples, and How to Get It

Is Swag Really an Acronym? Uncover a Common Misconception


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?

Definition of Swag and the Word's Origin

Swag is a name for promotional items that are given away to advertise a company or product. Some 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, and small toys that represent a company's mascot. Movies might give away posters and props as swag while adult beverage companies might choose koozies or bottle openers.

These days, you'll find a lot of websites that will tell you with great confidence that the word "swag" is an acronym that stands for "Stuff We All Get." The idea is that it comes from trade shows and exhibitions where companies give away promotional items to everyone who will take them. However, "stuff we all get" isn't an acronym but rather a bacronym: a phrase that was created to fit an already-existing word. Some people use an additional bacronym for swag: "Souvenirs, Wearables, And Gifts."

"Stuff we all get" is a much more recent construction than the word swag itself, which has been around for hundreds of years before our modern trade shows were invented.

But the word swag doesn't come from an acronym. It's actually a derivation of the Scandinavian word svagga, meaning "to rock unsteadily or lurch" according to Snopes. The word has been used in English since at least 1303, when it first appeared in print. By 1794, it had come to also 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).

Another Common Definition of Swag

That idea of moving from side to side also gives us the word "swagger," a big, confident stride. This leads us to another modern definition of "swag" meaning 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." (Although, as established above, he's hundreds of years too late for his claim "I invented swag" to be technically true.) Justin Bieber has also used swag this way, 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 because companies can 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 is not highly valuable, but some companies opt to give away larger items like branded wireless speakers or 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 unofficial 2016 Oscars swag bag was worth about $242,000.

Want to Win Swag? Here Are Some Tips

Swag has benefits for the sweepstakes sponsors who profit from the free advertising they bring. But promotional items can be a lot of fun to win as well, especially since they are often given away in large numbers. And some of the swag that companies come up with is 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 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 their swag bags together for major awards shows, they occasionally make extras for giveaways. So looking for swag in the time leading up to and just after the Oscars, the Golden Globes, and other big shows is a good time to be on the lookout for free swag bags.