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View Full Version : Origin of Swag: "Secretly we are gay"


Hero From Sector 7G
09-03-2012, 11:55 AM
This meme has been circulating twitter and Facebook (http://www.facebook.com/pages/The-Real-Meaning-of-Swag-Secretly-We-Are-Gay/100766106728435):

"The term swag was invented in the early 60's by a group of gay men in Hollywood. It stands for 'secretly we are gay' and was most frequently used as code on posters announcing gay orgies."

I'm no etymologist, but my skeptic organ is pinging hard. I understand the word "swag" pre-dates (http://www.etymonline.com/index.php?term=swag&allowed_in_frame=0) the 60's by a wide margin. The claim that it was invented in the 60's is obviously wrong, but still, it is possible the usage was as mentioned. Is there any evidence from the 60's? Actual posters? Written accounts?

So help me out dopers. Accept or reject?

running coach
09-03-2012, 12:01 PM
Waltzing Matilda (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Waltzing_Matilda) was written in 1895 and the main character is a swagman. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Swagman)
"Swag" being a bedroll.

ExTank
09-03-2012, 12:15 PM
I had thought, from the times I'd actually heard it used, that swag was loot/prizes/gifts/freebies.

Example 1: a friend of mine from Dallas was heavily involved in gamer and sci-fi cons back in the late 90's/early 00's (he still may be, we lost touch ~ '03), and he'd mentioned more than once that the "swag bags" (goodie bags for con organizers and sponsors) were great.

Example 2: not necessarily the best cite, but Hector Barbossa in Pirates of the Carribean mentions that his holds are bursting with swag. Considering that his ghost ship of undead pirates were all-male, I don't suppose that "Secretly We Are Gay" can be entirely ruled out as a meaning, but in the context of the scene, he was most assuredly referring to loot/treasure.

Neither regular online dictionaries or urban dictionaries support this meaning.

:confused:

Chessic Sense
09-03-2012, 12:20 PM
Swag just means swagger. It's almost 500 years old (http://shakespeare.mit.edu/midsummer/full.html).


PUCK

What hempen home-spuns have we swaggering here,
So near the cradle of the fairy queen?
What, a play toward! I'll be an auditor;
An actor too, perhaps, if I see cause.

Kenm
09-03-2012, 12:21 PM
From my computer's dictionary:ORIGIN Middle English (in the sense ‘bulging bag’): probably of Scandinavian origin. The original sense of the verb (early 16th cent.) was ‘cause to sway or sag.’

Hero From Sector 7G
09-03-2012, 12:32 PM
I am quite aware of the common uses.

Is there ANY evidence of this terminology being used in the 60's? It is entirely possible that a subculture of gay men did use the term to mean "secretly we are gay." However, I am loath to trust a Facebook meme. Does any documentation of this usage exist? For example, one of the mentioned gay orgy posters?

guizot
09-03-2012, 12:33 PM
People are always coming up with these asinine false acronym (http://www.mentalfloss.com/blogs/archives/40728) explanation for words. Those who fall for it usually are the same people who can't figure out how to open a dictionary.

Hero From Sector 7G
09-03-2012, 12:36 PM
Neither regular online dictionaries or urban dictionaries support this meaning.

Urban Dictionary (http://www.urbandictionary.com/define.php?term=swag) supports the meaning.

Let me Google (http://bit.ly/ORt5ct) that for you.

The usage obviously exists in modern times. I suspect this is a pushback from over-use, but cannot say for sure. The origin of the acronym in the 60's is suspect.

qualityleashdog
09-03-2012, 12:38 PM
Camel Cigarettes use the term 'swag' on their website to mean the odds and ends users have earned or been given by the company. Camels seem to be brand of choice for gays, liberals, youth, moderns and generally anyone that would be gay friendly or more open. Of course that is an open argument, just as Marlboros are more likely to be consumed by republicans, farmers, homophobes, and just the opposite of the Camel Smokers. Swag may not have any roots in homosexuality, but may have subliminally crept into the advertising campaign Camel is aiming for. There are arguments out there that attempt to peg who the average Marlboro vs. Camel smoker is, and I'm not necessarily interested in promoting one side or the other, but it does make sense to me that the two camps have picked their choice of tobacco, as I've seen it in my own life. In college, Camel was the brand, and we were all liberal and open minded smokers. Out in the working world, I notice the working class, rural, closed-minded, head-of-household, father of 2.5 children reaches for his Marlboro Reds, while the 20 year old college student working the summer job still reaches for the Camels.

ExTank
09-03-2012, 12:55 PM
Urban Dictionary (http://www.urbandictionary.com/define.php?term=swag) supports the meaning.

Let me Google (http://bit.ly/ORt5ct) that for you.

The usage obviously exists in modern times. I suspect this is a pushback from over-use, but cannot say for sure. The origin of the acronym in the 60's is suspect.

The "this meaning" I was refering to was my interpretation/understanding (loot/prizes/goodies/etc).

My google (before I posted my first response) came back with your meaning.

Sorry for the confusion.

Hero From Sector 7G
09-03-2012, 01:08 PM
...and I apologize if there was any snark in my post.

Wanna swagger?

Exapno Mapcase
09-03-2012, 01:12 PM
Follow-up question: Do swags snog?

Wendell Wagner
09-03-2012, 01:19 PM
After reading the Urban Dictionary entry, I have a theory that "swag" in the meaning you're talking about is a fairly recent fake etymology, not going back anywhere nearly as far as the early 1960's. The meaning of "swag" as "treasure" or "free giveaways" and the meaning of the word "swagger" clearly go back a long way. I suspect that sometime fairly recently (perhaps in the 1990's or 2000's), the word "swag" began being used by a youth culture in the U.S. as a general term of approval. Where they took this term from I can't say. Perhaps it comes from the way a cool person swaggers as they walk or perhaps it means that an item is to be treasured. I've never heard this meaning before, so whatever culture uses it is clearly much younger than me (and maybe in some region I don't visit).

It appears that this term became so common among this youth culture that some members of this culture became sick of it and made up a joke etymology for it. They claimed (as part of the joke) that it was actually invented in gay culture thirty or forty years before and was derived from the phrase "Secretly we are gay." In this way whenever another member of this culture used the term, they could say, "Well, we know that you must be homosexual to use the term." I can't swear to any of this theory of course, since I haven't done any real research on the topic. Does anyone here personally know of the word "swag" being used in any of these senses in contemporary youth culture?

Hero From Sector 7G
09-03-2012, 01:21 PM
Follow-up question: Do swags snog?This is a dangerous alliteration to continue.

santorum

Hero From Sector 7G
09-03-2012, 01:23 PM
After reading the Urban Dictionary entry, I have a theory that "swag" in the meaning you're talking about is a fairly recent fake etymology, not going back anywhere nearly as far as the early 1960's. This, and the rest of your post, was my line of thinking as well.

rsat3acr
09-03-2012, 01:25 PM
also don't think gay was a common term for homosexuality in the 60's.

Hero From Sector 7G
09-03-2012, 01:27 PM
also don't think gay was a common term for homosexuality in the 60's.

The master speaks! (http://www.straightdope.com/columns/read/517/how-did-gay-come-to-mean-homosexual)

"by 1955 'gay' had acquired its present meaning"

DrCube
09-03-2012, 01:29 PM
"Schwag" is the word I've always heard to mean "free branded stuff you get from parties, work and companies at conferences and stuff." Never heard "swag" until now.

ExTank
09-03-2012, 01:34 PM
"Schwag" is the word I've always heard to mean "free branded stuff you get from parties, work and companies at conferences and stuff." Never heard "swag" until now.

I admit that it's entirely possible my friend may have said 'schwag" and I heard/misunderstood it to be "swag."

I'm not going to pop in my copy of PotC to see if Barbossa was really saying "schwag" or "swag."

An Gadaí
09-03-2012, 01:43 PM
I had thought, from the times I'd actually heard it used, that swag was loot/prizes/gifts/freebies.

Example 1: a friend of mine from Dallas was heavily involved in gamer and sci-fi cons back in the late 90's/early 00's (he still may be, we lost touch ~ '03), and he'd mentioned more than once that the "swag bags" (goodie bags for con organizers and sponsors) were great.

Example 2: not necessarily the best cite, but Hector Barbossa in Pirates of the Carribean mentions that his holds are bursting with swag. Considering that his ghost ship of undead pirates were all-male, I don't suppose that "Secretly We Are Gay" can be entirely ruled out as a meaning, but in the context of the scene, he was most assuredly referring to loot/treasure.

Neither regular online dictionaries or urban dictionaries support this meaning.

:confused:

My dad, born in Ireland in 1941, used both the terms swag and swag bag. Similar to the first meaning you gave, he used them in reference to sweets/toys/other goodies.

Wendell Wagner
09-03-2012, 01:44 PM
DrCube, it's clear that "swag" is a much more common term. I suspect that "schwag" was a later joking version of the word.

An Gadaí
09-03-2012, 01:45 PM
I admit that it's entirely possible my friend may have said 'schwag" and I heard/misunderstood it to be "swag."

I'm not going to pop in my copy of PotC to see if Barbossa was really saying "schwag" or "swag."

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Promotional_item

Apparently it's both swag and schwag. Actually my dad said "schwag" thinking about it some more, not swag.

Leo Bloom
09-03-2012, 02:27 PM
From my computer's dictionary:
The Middle English dictionary [cite?], reflects a wonderful portmanteau in "swag" of the words "sway" and "sag."

guizot
09-03-2012, 02:46 PM
After reading the Urban Dictionary entry, I have a theory that "swag" in the meaning you're talking about is a fairly recent fake etymology, not going back anywhere nearly as far as the early 1960's. . .
It appears that this term became so common among this youth culture that some members of this culture became sick of it and made up a joke etymology for it. They claimed (as part of the joke) that it was actually invented in gay culture thirty or forty years before and was derived from the phrase "Secretly we are gay." In this way whenever another member of this culture used the term, they could say, "Well, we know that you must be homosexual to use the term." I think it's blatantly obvious that this is EXACTLY what what happened. That's why it's in Urban Dictionary.

njtt
09-03-2012, 04:19 PM
Swag (http://2media.nowpublic.net/images//4a/95/4a95ad79210650e23b0f287c1651794c.jpg)

Ruby Slippers
09-03-2012, 04:29 PM
SWAG (http://en.wiktionary.org/wiki/SWAG) is an acronym meaning Speculative Wild-Ass Guess.

RickJay
09-03-2012, 04:34 PM
Urban Dictionary (http://www.urbandictionary.com/define.php?term=swag) supports the meaning.
Which pretty much establishes that it's complete bullshit.

Mean Mr. Mustard
09-03-2012, 05:28 PM
"Secretly We Are Gay" is very clearly a backronym (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Backronym).

Another example of a backronym is the Amber alert. It was originally named after a missing girl named Amber; eventually some oh-so-clever official decided it should be an acronym for "America's Missing: Broadcast Emergency Response".


mmm

Nzinga, Seated
09-03-2012, 05:35 PM
I think it's blatantly obvious that this is EXACTLY what what happened. That's why it's in Urban Dictionary.

Precisely. It's just like how people go around saying, "You know, the real origin of jeans sagging is based on gay men in jail advertising themselves as available." It's simple sour grapes in this case...some people look at men who are cocky and over confident and they just can't stand it. They feel the need to 'pull them down' in some way. Put them back in their place. "Well, now you aren't any better than me, mr. cool guy, because your confidence and style is really a secret code for the GAY!"

I understand how it can annoy, though. I mean, the hip hop culture used to be much less saturated with the word...and over-saturation can drive people up the wall. Once you have every rapper and pop star naming their songs after a word, you really do feel like, ugh. But that's the nature of slang...if a cornball gets a hold of a catchy slang term, they will over-use it and make it corny.

"Swagger" has been around forever, obviously, like many posters have pointed out. I have noticed it in black culture to mean "cool, cocky, lots of style" for many years. In hip hop culture, I can remember some songs that go back nearly 25 years! (Brand Nubian used the term on more than one song way back in 1990 at least). It being shortened to 'swag' is pretty old too, with Jay Z making a song about it at least 10 years ago.

So the idea that now, 20 years later, Urban Dictionary would come up with some retarded backronym is just silly.

Beware of Doug
09-03-2012, 08:46 PM
It's just like how people go around saying, "You know, the real origin of jeans sagging is based on gay men in jail advertising themselves as available." It's simple sour grapes in this case...some people look at men who are cocky and over confident and they just can't stand it. They feel the need to 'pull them down' in some way. Put them back in their place. "Well, now you aren't any better than me, mr. cool guy, because your confidence and style is really a secret code for the GAY!"It can work because gay scholars often play pretty loose when "outing" historical figures.

md2000
09-04-2012, 11:22 AM
So Tarantino was making it up in Pulp Fiction when he said the purpose of a tongue stud was to aid in fellatio?

yearofglad
09-04-2012, 11:33 AM
So Tarantino was making it up in Pulp Fiction when he said the purpose of a tongue stud was to aid in fellatio?

That was Jody's purpose in getting one, but I don't think the implication was that's why tongue studs were invented or that's everyone's purpose in getting one.

bup
09-04-2012, 11:33 AM
'Secretly We Are Gay' doesn't even flow nicely. MMM is right - like posh, or gorp, it's an explanation (and not even a good one) looking for a question.

Acsenray
09-04-2012, 11:38 AM
So Tarantino was making it up in Pulp Fiction when he said the purpose of a tongue stud was to aid in fellatio?

Everything Tarantino says is made up. Some of it happens just to be true, but that's just a coincidence.

Rich G7subs
09-04-2012, 01:36 PM
SWAG (http://en.wiktionary.org/wiki/SWAG) is an acronym meaning Speculative Wild-Ass Guess.

THIS... Only it's a SCIENTIFIC Wild Assed Guess

steronz
09-04-2012, 01:50 PM
When I first heard of swag (in the context of free goodies) it was combined with the obvious backronym "stuff we all get." It appears people have now out-backronymed the backronym.

md2000
09-04-2012, 02:40 PM
That was Jody's purpose in getting one, but I don't think the implication was that's why tongue studs were invented or that's everyone's purpose in getting one.

I took it as Tarantino's snide way of saying that of course it's the only reason...

orcenio
09-04-2012, 03:06 PM
Lost in space (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OKbawIq3w7U).

Chronos
09-04-2012, 03:24 PM
Wait, "gorp" isn't an acronym? <googles>

Huh, apparently it's from a root word meaning "eat greedily". I never knew.

Omar Little
09-04-2012, 03:33 PM
I always thought those swag light fixtures from the 70's were gay. Go figure.

Mean Mr. Mustard
09-05-2012, 06:05 PM
Wait, "gorp" isn't an acronym? <googles>

Huh, apparently it's from a root word meaning "eat greedily". I never knew.

I learned that from an episode of Wait Wait Don't Tell Me.


mmm

Chessic Sense
09-05-2012, 06:44 PM
After reading the Urban Dictionary entry, I have a theory that "swag" in the meaning you're talking about is a fairly recent fake etymology...It appears that this term became so common among this youth culture that some members of this culture became sick of it and made up a joke etymology for it....Does anyone here personally know of the word "swag" being used in any of these senses in contemporary youth culture?

Sorry I didn't point this out earlier for those unaware, but "swag" is currently what "the cool kids" are saying in America's high schools to describe trendy fashion or media choices. If I had to guess, I'd say it started about a year ago. As with any pop phrase, there are those in the peer group that look down on its use. These people then make urban dictionary entries.

Extra Credit: The other currently overused phrase is "YOLO" for "You only live once." It's commonly said after one announces that they're going to do something stupid, such as eating dirt, slapping a cop, staring into the sun, or playing in traffic. Here's a parody (http://www.virtualshackles.com/343) of such usage, and some disparaging remarks (http://i.imgur.com/onLCt.jpg).

Shacatt
12-21-2012, 05:33 PM
Check out http://www.snopes.com/language/acronyms/swag.asp

Leo Bloom
12-21-2012, 07:33 PM
I took it as Tarantino's snide way of saying that of course it's the only reason...
Isn't it? Or equally by announcing that the the thought of your mouth (with tongue knob) can be allowably imagined with a penis inside it.

Correct me if I'm wrong.

pulykamell
12-21-2012, 08:10 PM
People are always coming up with these asinine false acronym (http://www.mentalfloss.com/blogs/archives/40728) explanation for words. Those who fall for it usually are the same people who can't figure out how to open a dictionary.

Yeah, are any of these acronym etymologies for slang words ever true? I mean, I'm sure there's some, but from "fuck" to "tip" to "shit" to--crap, I'm blanking on all the other common ones. OK, there's "fubar" and "snafu" and those military ones, I suppose, which are true.

And Urban Dictionary is fine for figuring out where current slang is. It's a great resource, in my opinion. To trace etymologies, though, not so much.

Dr. Strangelove
12-21-2012, 08:15 PM
OK, there's "fubar" and "snafu" and those military ones, I suppose, which are true.

Don't forget OK (http://www.straightdope.com/columns/read/503/what-does-ok-stand-for) itself.

April R
12-21-2012, 08:25 PM
Swag may refer to:

Swag (album), a 2002 album by former Guns N' Roses guitarist, Gilby Clarke
Swag (bedroll), an Australian bedroll
Swag (motif), a garland
Swag (novel), a 1976 crime novel
Swag (TV series), a United Kingdom reality television series
"Swag" (Ugly Betty episode), the eleventh episode of the television series Ugly Betty
Swag, a type of window valance, often in combination with a full curtain underneath
Swag, slang originating in the early 1800s[1] for stolen goods or booty; possibly carried by a swagman
Swag, promotional items given away at trade fairs and events
The Swag, a magazine published quarterly for Catholic priests and deacons of Australia

SWAG may refer to:

SWAG, Sourceware Archive Group, a free collection of classified source code and sample programs written in Pascal.
SWAG, music of the musical group Bonde da Stronda
SWAG, Special Warfare Group, an elite unit of the Naval Special Warfare Group of the Philippine Navy
Scientific Wild-Ass Guess, slang for a rough estimate based on expert experience

pulykamell
12-21-2012, 08:26 PM
Don't forget OK (http://www.straightdope.com/columns/read/503/what-does-ok-stand-for) itself.
Yeah, "ole korrekt," right? I didn't think of it, because I don't really think of it as an acronym, as it's not pronounced as a single word and looks ( since its written in caps) as an abbreviation for something.

Wendell Wagner
12-22-2012, 06:02 AM
pulykamell writes:

> Yeah, are any of these acronym etymologies for slang words ever true? I mean,
> I'm sure there's some, but from "fuck" to "tip" to "shit" to--crap, I'm blanking on
> all the other common ones. OK, there's "fubar" and "snafu" and those military
> ones, I suppose, which are true.

The rule I use is to check when the supposed acronym was created. If it's before 1910, the story is almost always false. The stories that these etymologies tell you about "fuck", "tip", and "shit" supposedly happened sometime before the twentieth century when acronym were rare. Furthermore, we have previous cictations and reasonable etymologies for these words. The fad for acronyms didn't start before World War I and didn't really get rolling until World War II.

steviep24
12-22-2012, 07:27 AM
Swag just means swagger. It's almost 500 years old (http://shakespeare.mit.edu/midsummer/full.html).
It's popularity with young people today, especially teens, can be attributed to The Black Eyed Peas. Example here. (http://www.metrolyrics.com/boom-boom-pow-lyrics-black-eyed-peas.html) BEP uses swagger and the teens shorten it to swag.

They also use swag to refer to anything that's "in style" or "cool".

PlainJain
12-22-2012, 09:04 AM
Which pretty much establishes that it's complete bullshit.
Thank you. This board strongly poo-poo-ed using Wikipedia as a cite for years but over the last few months it seems like I see posters blithely citing urban Dictionary almost on a weekly basis.

UD is whatever anyone submits and is bullshit with regards to legitimacy.

pulykamell
12-22-2012, 09:40 AM
Thank you. This board strongly poo-poo-ed using Wikipedia as a cite for years but over the last few months it seems like I see posters blithely citing urban Dictionary almost on a weekly basis.

UD is whatever anyone submits and is bullshit with regards to legitimacy.

Do you have any clear examples? Everything I've ever looked up there has been spot-on, provided that you're looking at definitions that are rated highly. It seems to me to be a very good snapshot of slang, as defined by the users of slang.

Wendell Wagner
12-22-2012, 12:15 PM
It depends what you use Urban Dictionary for. If you see a new piece of slang that you don't understand, you can use it to understand that expression. It very likely will be correct about the meaning, particularly if there are a lot of votes for it. If it makes any claim about the etymology of the term, you should be very dubious. The average person knows what a word means when used in his own circle of acquaintances. He does not know the etymology of the word, and he has no training in distinguishing between wrong and right etymologies.

pulykamell
12-22-2012, 12:45 PM
It depends what you use Urban Dictionary for. If you see a new piece of slang that you don't understand, you can use it to understand that expression. It very likely will be correct about the meaning, particularly if there are a lot of votes for it. If it makes any claim about the etymology of the term, you should be very dubious. The average person knows what a word means when used in his own circle of acquaintances. He does not know the etymology of the word, and he has no training in distinguishing between wrong and right etymologies.

Yes, that's exactly how I use it. (If you missed my first post, I did say that it's "not so good" for etymologies.)

Lamia
12-22-2012, 02:33 PM
Looks like this has been pretty thoroughly debunked already, but for anyone interested in coded language that was used by homosexuals in the old days then I found a brief piece by Bruce Vilanch (who must know a thing or two about being gay in Hollywood, although not in the '60s) in a 1998 issue of the Advocate (http://books.google.com/books?id=cWMEAAAAMBAJ&lpg=PA73&dq=%22friend%20of%20dorothy%22&pg=PA73#v=onepage&q&f=false). Note that the examples he gives are phrases like "friend of Dorothy" that could be taken to have a mundane meaning if overheard by someone who wasn't in the know. Something like "SWAG = Secretly We Are Gay" is too stupid and obvious to be useful to people who were genuinely concerned about secrecy. In the 1960s bars and clubs known as gay meeting places were often raided by the police, so even with a more subtle code I think it's extremely unlikely that there would have been many posters advertizing gay orgies.

Rolando
12-23-2012, 10:12 AM
Scientific Wild-Ass Guess, slang for a rough estimate based on expert experience

this is what we enganeers say when we really don't know!

dreaddormamo
05-01-2013, 04:15 PM
This meme has been circulating twitter and Facebook (http://www.facebook.com/pages/The-Real-Meaning-of-Swag-Secretly-We-Are-Gay/100766106728435):

"The term swag was invented in the early 60's by a group of gay men in Hollywood. It stands for 'secretly we are gay' and was most frequently used as code on posters announcing gay orgies."

I'm no etymologist, but my skeptic organ is pinging hard. I understand the word "swag" pre-dates (http://www.etymonline.com/index.php?term=swag&allowed_in_frame=0) the 60's by a wide margin. The claim that it was invented in the 60's is obviously wrong, but still, it is possible the usage was as mentioned. Is there any evidence from the 60's? Actual posters? Written accounts?

So help me out dopers. Accept or reject?




Reject :
that word has a longer history than that, back to the days of pirates, this is just another adaption of the word for another purpose.....

drew870mitchell
05-01-2013, 04:52 PM
Precisely. It's just like how people go around saying, "You know, the real origin of jeans sagging is based on gay men in jail advertising themselves as available." It's simple sour grapes in this case...some people look at men who are cocky and over confident and they just can't stand it. They feel the need to 'pull them down' in some way. Put them back in their place. "Well, now you aren't any better than me, mr. cool guy, because your confidence and style is really a secret code for the GAY!"


Acknowledging that this is a zombie, agree 100%, "Secretly We Are Gay" sounds exactly like what they told us in high school, which was that wearing sagging pants meant you were receptive to buttsex in prison. It always grinded my gears because it's simultaneously ignorant, homophobic, and racist.

sqweels
05-01-2013, 04:54 PM
Dennis Moore (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MH5OnkzI6fo) knows what SWAG is, and it ain't lupins (skip ahead to 4:33).


Also, we've done this before:
http://boards.straightdope.com/sdmb/archive/index.php/t-76957.html