A shallow subsidence in the ground that collects water, a swag can be a natural formation or one generated by a mining excavation. Swags occur in flat or slightly rolling terrain, and may also be called sag ponds. Many older references, alas, involve accidents, such as the one in which two nineteenth-century brothers drowned while “bathing in the old colliery swag.” In mountainous regions of North Carolina, the term is applied to landforms more generally; for example, an inn located atop the Cataloochee Divide takes its name from a ridge that locals call The Swag because it overlooks a dip in the ridge. From the inn’s brochure: “Think of swag draperies, swag lamps, or a sway-back horse, and you will see in your mind’s eye the gentle curve of our landscape.” These meanings all derive from swag in the sense of something heavy and loose that sways or sags under its own weight. In addition, swag is an Australian term for a tramp’s bundle (thus, swagman), and widespread slang for a thief’s loot, a meaning revived, playfully, for the copious giveaways at modern-day conventions and conferences. Place-names derived from swag include Swag Gulch, a valley in Colorado, and Swag Fork, a stream in Wyoming.

Emily Hiestand