In Search of “Swag”
To me, it meant stolen goods; but what did it mean to my teen son?2
How rich American slang3 has become. I feel as if I am hanging on for dear life as the language shifts and morphs around me, leaving me at sea in an increasingly unfamiliar vernacular.4 Such are the wages of the passing years.
The latest fragment to arrive on the shores of my ignorance is "swag."5 When my 16-year-old son first uttered it, I was caught off guard.6 Here's what he said in reference to one of his friends: "Jesse's got swag."7 Now, in my experience, swag has two meanings: It refers to either stolen goods or a collection of goodies, such as the boxes of toiletries that colleges distribute to students at the beginning of the school year.8 But when I said to my son, "Where did Jesse get it?" he regarded me with a pained expression and asked, incredulously, "What are you talking about?"9
When I explained what I understood "swag" to mean, Anton laughed – laughed! – at me. Then he shook his head. "OK," I said. "Then what does 'swag' mean?" His answer: "If you had it, you'd know."
There it was: I had to first have swag in order to know what it meant. A perfect Catch-2210. So I sought another route to enlightenment – the seventh-grader I mentor in the local middle school.11 During one of our sessions, as we pored over his Spanish homework, I broached the delicate topic.12 "Do you know what swag is?" I asked him. "Sure," he said. "It means that you're cool."
Ah, so simple, but yet so proprietary that my own son couldn't admit me to the cabala of its meaning.13 Pressing my luck, I swallowed my dignity and quietly asked my mentee, "Do you think I have it?" Without taking his eyes from his work, he shrugged, "Yeah, you've got a lot of it."
Glowing, I communicated this intelligence to Anton at my first opportunity. 14"Ricky said I have swag," I announced as he hovered15 in front of the open fridge. "A lot of it."
Anton shook his head, as if he didn't know what he was going to do with16 me. "How old is Ricky?" he asked.
Anton let out a deprecating17 breath. "Twelve?" he echoed. "What does he know!"
Hmm … swag was clearly in the eye of the beholder, and seemingly difficult to earn or get credit for.18 The next day, as I was chatting with my students in the college biology class I teach, I was moved to ask them about this word. They were, of course, familiar with it. Then one of them asked why I wanted to know. I didn't feel it appropriate to tell them how haunted I was by the realization that I might not possess swag, so I dodged the inquiry and commenced the lesson.19
Well, no matter20, I told myself. I had lived in blissful ignorance of my swaglessness until now, so I was sure I could continue on intact.21 But some perceptive, caring soul in my class must have detected my note of despondency in mentioning the elusive quality.22 The next day, when I came to school, there was a multicolored sticker affixed to my office door: I'VE GOT SWAG.
Need I mention that when I returned home I lay in anxious wait for Anton? As he came through the door, I accosted him with, "Someone put a sticker on my office door. It says, I'VE GOT SWAG."23 What I didn't add by way of emphasis was, "So take that!"24
"It doesn't matter," said Anton as he headed for the fridge.25
"Doesn't matter?" I already felt my heart sinking.
"No," he said offhandedly26. "Swag is out. There's a new word now."
"A new word?" I echoed. "What is it?"
Turning to me, Anton's eyes were once again filled with pity. "You mean you don't know?"
1. in search of: 寻找，寻觅；swag: （俚语）赃物；很酷的。
3. slang: 俚语。
4. 身边的话语不断地转换、变化，我好像在舍命坚持，本土语言却让我感觉越来越不熟悉，我茫然不知所措。hang on: 坚持；for dear life: 拼命地；morph: 变化，变形；at sea: 茫然，不知所措；vernacular: 本地话，本国语。
5. fragment: 碎片，片段；ignorance: 无知。
6. utter: 说，发出声音；caught off guard: 猝不及防，麻痹大意。
7. in reference to: 关于；Jesse’s got swag: 杰西酷毙了！
8. goody: 想要的东西；toiletries: 化妆品，洗漱用品。
9. regard: 注视，打量；pained: 痛苦的，伤感情的；incredulously: 满腹狐疑地。
10. Catch-22: 《第22条军规》，美国作家约瑟夫•海勒（Joseph Heller）的代表作。按照“第22条军规”，疯子可以免于飞行，但同时又规定必须由本人提出申请，而本人一旦提出申请，便证明你没疯。于是，这条表面讲究人道的军规就成了耍弄人的圈套。
11. enlightenment: 教化，启蒙；seventh-grader: 七年级学生，美国的初等教育包括一至两年的学前幼儿教育，一年的幼儿园，六年的小学教育，中等教育包括七年级到八年级的初级中学教育，以及九至十二年级的高级中学教育； mentor: 辅导，指导老师。
12. session: 一堂课，一段时间；pore over: 仔细阅读，审视；broach: 提出讨论；delicate: 敏感的，微妙的。
13. proprietary: 私有的，专有的；cabala: 卡巴拉，与拉比犹太教的神秘观点有关的一种训练课程，指神秘的或费解的学说（或原理）。
14. glowing: 容光焕发的，热情的；communicate: 传达，使某事物被人知晓；intelligence: 情报。
15. hover: 徘徊，踌躇。
16. do with: 对待，处理。
17. let out: 释放，发出；deprecating: 不以为然的，挖苦的。
18. 嗯……酷范儿被人看在眼里，但似乎很难赢得或获得赞扬。in the eye of: 在……看来，从……的观点来看；beholder: 旁观者；seemingly: 表面上看来，似乎；get credit for: 因……而得到好评，获得声誉。
19. 我感觉不适合跟他们说我所受到的困扰，因为我担心自己可能并没有那种酷范儿，于是我回避了这个问题，开始讲课。haunted: 为……所困扰；dodge: 闪烁其辞。
20. no matter: 没关系，不要紧。
21. blissful: 极快乐的，幸福的，in blissful ignorance: 处在有福气的无知状态；intact: 原封不动的，完整的。
22. perspective: 透视的，有洞察力的；caring: 关心的，在意的；soul: 人，家伙；despondency: 失望，沮丧；elusive: 难懂的，难以捉摸的。
23. come through: 通过，穿过；accost: 与……某人搭讪，攀谈；
24. by way of: 经由，通过……的方法；So take that: 接招吧。
25 head for: 朝……方向走去；fridge: 冰箱。
26. offhandedly: 立即，随口。