Well, I swanee...

Posted by Masakim on September 06, 2001

In Reply to: Well, I swanee... posted by Teresa on August 16, 2001

: I'm sure must be old Southern saying...don't even remember when I first heard it, but recently said it to a friend and have been trying to find origins since. Any help appreciated.

There are two theories of the origin of these terms [swan & swanny]. The most obvious is that they are euphemistic variants of "swear". This parallels the very frequent use of euphemisms for almost any term related to religious profanity or oaths--"doggone" or "dadgum" (or many other variants) for "God damn", from roughly the same period; "zounds" for "God's wounds" from centuries earlier, etc. ad infinitum.
The other theory is that the terms are reduced forms of "I s'wan" or "I s'wan ye", northern English dialectal forms of "I shall warrant (you)", more or less equivalent to "I swear". The "wan" pronunciation of "warrant", and the use of "warrant" in exclamations, are widely attested in northern English dialects, and this could explain both why the "swan(ny)" forms are chiefly dialectal in America, and why the "swanny" form exists at all (the "ye" in the longer phrase going to a "-y" ending is probably more likely than a derivation of "swanny" from "swear").
(From The Mavens' Word of the Day, 12 March 1999)