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I swan

Posted by Masakim on June 02, 2003

In Reply to: I swan posted by ESC on June 02, 2003

: : 'I swan!'', means ''swear.''

: From the archives:

: The Oxford English Dictionary has "swan" as a verb, labeled U.S. slang, derived probably (it says) from northern England dialectal "Is' wan," literally "I shall warrant" = I'll be bound; later taken as a mincing substitute for "swear." The first use in print recorded in the dictionary is from the year 1823.

Both *swan* and *swanny* mean 'to swear' or 'to declare', and are used only in exclamations in the first person singular. Both are Americanisms; *swan* is first recorded in the late eighteenth century, *swanny* in the early nineteenth.
There are two theories of the origin of these terms. 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 (March 12, 1999)

Nay, I swan (as the old saying) we of Boston, after all, are better off than those of New York. [1784 in _Magazine of American History_ ]
We have "I swan" and "I swanny" for I swear. [_New England Magazine_ ]
Well, I swan to man, if old Tyler hain't made a fool of himself. [_Jamestown Journal_ ]