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Swag: Hip-Hop's Word Of The Year

The rapper Lil B, who spread the word "swag" throughout hip-hop. (Courtesy of the artist.)

2011 was a good year for the word "swag". Not trinkets, or party favors, not an acronym for Stuff We All Get, "swag" comes from swagger. This year a term that hip-hop artists have been using for nearly a decade enjoyed a moment in the spotlight.

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Transcript

ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

2011 was also a good year for swag. Not swag meaning trinkets or party favors or an acronym for stuff we all get. The word swag that had a good year comes from swagger. NPR's Sami Yenigun reports.

SAMI YENIGUN, BYLINE: Lil B throws swag on everything.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "WONTON SOUP")

LIL B: (Rapping) Wet like wonton soup.

YENIGUN: Jay-Z had his back in 2003.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "DECEMBER 4TH")

JAY-Z: (Rapping) ...through the roof, man. I got my swag.

YENIGUN: And Soulja Boy, he turns it on first thing in the morning.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "TURN MY SWAG ON")

SOULJA BOY: (Singing) Hopped up out the bed, turn my swag on.

YENIGUN: Roughly speaking, if you've got swag, you've got confidence, style. You're charismatic.

JESSE SHEIDLOWER: This year is the point when it's really started becoming common outside of rap music, so nonmusical celebrities are starting to use it more and more.

YENIGUN: Check out Jesse Sheidlower, editor at large of the Oxford English Dictionary. Swag, he says, not only are pop artists like Justin Bieber and Kesha using it, professional athletes are dropping it, and it's popping up on network TV shows like "So You Think You Can Dance" and "Parks and Recreation."

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

YENIGUN: Sheidlower says that swag is swag because you can drop it anywhere.

SHEIDLOWER: The core use is as a noun.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "PRETTY BOY SWAG")

BOY: (Singing) This right here is my swag.

SHEIDLOWER: It can be used as a verb.

YENIGUN: Taco Bennett right there swagging.

With the full form, there's the idiom to swagger jack.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG)

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: (Singing) Please do not swagger jack me.

SHEIDLOWER: Meaning to copy someone's style. But it is showing up in other contexts as well. I mean, for instance, on Twitter, you can use it as a hashtag just as an interjection-like thing where you can say...

UNIDENTIFIED GROUP: Swag, swag, swag, swag, swag, swag, swag.

SHEIDLOWER: Meaning that's great or something like that. It's very flexible right now.

YENIGUN: Swagger has been around for centuries. Sheidlower says it's rooted in Old Norse. But in English...

SHEIDLOWER: The first example of swagger as a verb goes back to Shakespeare, actually. It's found in "Midsummer Night's Dream."

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: What hempen homespuns have we swaggering here...

YENIGUN: Now, let's chop off the word's tail and fast-forward to spring 2011, where we see a video of Sean Combs, aka King Combs, aka Puff Daddy, aka Puffy, aka P. Diddy, aka Diddy, making an important announcement.

DIDDY: My new name is Swag.

YENIGUN: And Swag set up a Twitter, @iamswag, where he tweeted about things that were - you get the idea. But the name change only lasted a week. Diddy is Diddy again. As for how much longer swag will last, well, let's just say it had a good year. Sami Yenigun, NPR News, swag, swag.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "TURN MY SWAG ON")

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: (Singing) Soulja Boy, tell them.

BOY: (Singing) Hopped up out the bed, turn my swag on. Took a look in the mirror, said, what's up, what's up? Yeah, I'm getting money. Oh.

SIEGEL: You're listening to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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