Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Brief History of Swag

As I re-read over and over again due to my OCD reflected on my recent swag post, I started to ponder how and when the idea of swag came about. Therefore, I decided to do some research on the history of swag. I wanted to get down to the basics, the nitty gritty on the evolution of this thing we now call swag. I found nothing. Here's a brief overview of what I did not find:

The First Evidence of Swag
The earliest indication of swag can be found in the Lascaux Cave Paintings in the south of France. Archaeologists, in a never ending battle to discover the roots of human existence, have dated these paintings back to more than 30,000 years ago (an amount of time equal to my IM run split). Originally, scientists interpreted these paintings as a Day in the Life (which the Beatles later re-made into a hit song). A more careful look at the photo will reveal more intriguing clues. Clearly, this was a deer shooting contest. The event was sponsored by Gander Mountain, back in the early days of the company's inception. Those who registered early got a fancy new bow string, such as the guy in the top of the painting. Since Gander Mountain did not expect a large number of competitors, the late comers did not receive any swag. The bow string guy seems to be the only one in the picture not stressed, sitting back and enjoying the moment. The others are frantically trying to figure out how to launch their arrows without string. They are trying different yoga poses (this was after yoga was invented) in an effort to maximize their bows' efficiency. Scientists are still unsure why one deer has arrows sticking out of his chest. To their best guess, they think the bow string guy shot this deer as it is clear he is out of arrows and that deer was in front. Either that, or they guy immediately in front of that deer has a pretty good throwing arm. The debate rages on.

Swag, the Later Years
The literature is really quite scant on swag details, unless you know where to look. Jump ahead in history a good 28,000 years to Ancient Egypt. During this time, Queen Cleopatra ruled the empire. Cleo had 4 different husbands during her life and was reputed to be constantly bored. She held numerous contests in an effort to keep herself amused. But, since she was also in the habit of killing off some of the losers, many of the common folk were not motivated to join in the competitions. Cleo noticed that participant enrollment in her Temple Building and Pyramid Building contests were at an all time low. She reached rock bottom when she held a Sphinx Building contest and just one guy registered. And, he built his structure without a nose. Cleo called together a group of advisers to discuss how to increase contestant registration. They suggested that she start handing out gifts, royal mugs and wine goblets, to those who signed up (as evidenced in the pyramid carving). The idea worked! Sadly, not all of Cleo's contests were great ideas. Her worse idea, Cutest Snake contest in which she was the judge.

Current State of Swag
The Urban Dictionary (the only resource I will cite today, proving the validity of this post) has several definitions of swag. As an acronym, it means 'scientific wild ass guess'. Or, it means 'sista with a gun' for some reason. Also, it can mean 'stuff we all get'. If you are going to a conference, this last definition may actually apply. But, if you sign up for an athletic event, spectators don't get swag, thus negating the UD definition. Spectators may get door prizes instead of swag. Door prizes are unexpected free stuff. Swag is unexpected free stuff. Obviously, they are not the same thing.

In today's economy, swag has been reduced to advertisements for semi-entertaining blogs, coupons for online shopping, travel-sized samples, and, in the rare occasion, pictures of the race director while he was on his last vacation (taken by non other than Brightroom photography).

So there you have it. By now, hopefully, you understand the meaning, history, and importance of swag in the context of the modern triathlon.

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