v. the act of going to Swem library to study, usually for a long period of time before an exam or project is due

Etymology: Swem (name of the library) + -ing (derivational affix, verbalizer)

(This is a verb, to go swemming, to be doing the action of swemming)

Swem Library, named after Earl Gregg Swem, is located on the campus of the College of William and Mary. Earl Gregg Swem was a college librarian from 1920 to 1944. The library first opened in 1966, celebrating its 50th birthday this past January (2016). Before Swem, the College library was located in Tucker. The library is one of the most frequented places on campus, and has a special collections area, media center, and coffee shop, Swemaromas.

Sociolectal Information: This word is used only by William and Mary students, because Swem is obviously a library that is unique to this campus. It is used somewhat jokingly, for example, if you want to tell your roommate or friend that you will be stuck in Swem for the night, you can tell them you will be going “swemming”. Interestingly, I have heard my roommate use the term jointly with which floor she would be on, since, at the College, the different floors of Swem vary in intensity of focus, with the first floor being casual and the third floor being the most silent and serious. So when my roommate says “I’ll be third floor swemming”, it’s understood that it is a big homework/study night.

The tone around the word, while usually neutral to just describe the TWAMP way of studying, has gotten another, much more negative connotation recently. Many people see using the term as a form of brag-plaining (complaining but with the underlying brag of saying that you are so studious and that you struggled for many hours inside Swem). Also there is concern surrounding this word in that people often worry about the mental health and the stigma surrounding academic pressure of this school. It is worrying that we have a term for locking ourselves in to study for hours on end. While this is valid and I agree, I think it is important to acknowledge this stigma as well as the neutral definition.

Survival Predictions: I think the word will survive, but stay at the popularity level it has now. It is not used often, but it is heard every once and a while, and usually mutually understood. The problem with the term is that it sounds so much like swimming, that people sometimes get confused as to what the speaker has said, but I don’t think swimming affects the term in any other way. In this case, adding the floor information might even be helpful to keeping the term alive and less confusing.

Lexopinions: I think the term, while as seen above, can be confusing, but also very useful. At the College, we take work and exams extremely seriously, locking ourselves in Swem for hours on end. Productive or not, the time we spend there may as well have another term. A lot like the verb “Googling” (to Google something, the verb form of Google), the noun part already existed and was used frequently, but the verb stemmed out from it as more of a slang.



  1. This was a very informative and well written post! I completely agree with what you have said about the word’s use on campus. People tend to lock themselves in swem for hours and this word is mutually understand by all twamps to have that meaning. I was particularly interested in your sociolectal information where you discussed your roommate adding which floor she studies on. I haven’t heard anyone say that before, but I definitely agree that it is useful both in relating the level of intensity of studying as well clearing up the confusion between swimming and swemming. One thing you could add to this post is that the connotation behind swemming is somewhat controversial. Some people think its a form of bragplaining, where students compete about how much time they have spent studying in swem. Others don’t view it this way and instead just see it as a neutral verb. I think that this word being a part of our campus vocabulary hints at the strong work ethic and academic drive that students have here, but others also view it as an unfortunate indication of our campus’s mental health because staying in swem for hours on end is definitely less than ideal. Personally, I think swemming is fine as long as it is in moderation. A person who locks themselves in swem every night may be a cause for concern, but the average person cram studying before a test is understandable. So, the word may have a slight negative connotation that you could look into, but otherwise this was a really thorough post!

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