Trend Watch

Trump: 'Vast Swatches of Land'

Whether he said it or not, 'swatch' is what people heard

Swatch, "a sample piece (as of fabric) or a collection of samples," rose improbably to the top of our lookups during the third and final presidential debate on October 19th, 2016. The reason for this spike was not the geopolitical implications of textile remains; it was because many people heard Donald Trump apparently use the word swatch instead of swath in the phrase “vast swatches of land.”

When swatch first entered English in the 1500s, it named something very useful—a tag or tally people attached to cloth they were sending to the dyer to mark ownership. Dyeing was a time-intensive process, so dyers dyed many merchants' stock at the same time. Owners would collect their dyed cloth by finding the cloth with their swatch on it.In short order, swatch was applied to any small sample of fabric. The verb, while common among knitters and crocheters, is not well-known outside of fiber arts.

Swath entered our language in the 14th century, with an original meaning of “a windrow of cut grain or grass left by a scythe or mowing machine.” It now most commonly has the sense of “a long broad strip or belt” (as of land).

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