Definitions

from The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, 4th Edition

  • n. Any of various large aquatic birds of the family Anatidae chiefly of the genera Cygnus and Olor, having webbed feet, a long slender neck, and usually white plumage.
  • n. See Cygnus.
  • intransitive v. Chiefly British To travel around from place to place: "Swanning around Europe nowadays, are we?” ( Jeffrey Archer).
  • intransitive v. Chiefly Southern U.S. To declare; swear. Used in the phrase I swan as an interjection. See Regional Note at vum.

from Wiktionary, Creative Commons Attribution/Share-Alike License

  • n. Any of various species of large, long-necked waterfowl, of genus Cygnus, most of which have white plumage.
  • n. One whose grace etc. suggests a swan.
  • v. (intransitive) To travel from place to place with no fixed itinerary or purpose.
  • v. To declare (chiefly in first-person present constructions).

from the GNU version of the Collaborative International Dictionary of English

  • n. Any one of numerous species of large aquatic birds belonging to Cygnus, Olor, and allied genera of the subfamily Cygninæ. They have a large and strong beak and a long neck, and are noted for their graceful movements when swimming. Most of the northern species are white. In literature the swan was fabled to sing a melodious song, especially at the time of its death.
  • n. Fig.: An appellation for a sweet singer, or a poet noted for grace and melody.
  • n. The constellation Cygnus.

from The Century Dictionary and Cyclopedia

  • n. A large lamellirostral palmiped bird, of the family Anatidæ and subfamily Cygninæ, with a long and flexible neck, naked lores, reticulate tarsi, and simple or slightly lobed hallux. ; ; ;
  • n. In heraldry, a bearing representing a swan, usually with the wings raised as it carries them when swimming. It is therefore not necessary to say in the blazon “with wings indorsed.” See below.
  • n. In astronomy See Cygnus, 2.
  • n. See def. 1.
  • To swear: used in the phrase I swan, an expression of emphasis. Also swon.

from WordNet 3.0 Copyright 2006 by Princeton University. All rights reserved.

  • v. sweep majestically
  • n. stately heavy-bodied aquatic bird with very long neck and usually white plumage as adult
  • v. move about aimlessly or without any destination, often in search of food or employment
  • v. to declare or affirm solemnly and formally as true

Etymologies

Middle English, from Old English.
Probably alteration of dialectal (I) s' warrant, (I) shall warrant.
(American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition)
From Old English swan, from Proto-Germanic *swanaz. Cognate with Saxon swan, Old Norse svanr, Dutch zwaan, German Schwan), probably literally "the singing bird," from a Proto-Indo-European base *swon-/*swen- "to sing, make sound". Related to Old English geswin ("melody, song") and swinsian ("to make melody"). (Wiktionary)
Probably from dialectal I s'wan, contraction of "I shall warrant"; later seen as a minced form of I swear. (Wiktionary)

Examples

  • For instance, use of the term swan-upping is always greeted with a smile in England.

    VERBATIM: The Language Quarterly Vol XII No 2

  • And something about our culture too, since people seem to assume that scientists are much smarter than non-scientists, even though that isn't necessarily the case (I'd say maybe differently smart). bamboo: Yeah, the the "ugly duckling" smart woman who takes off her glasses and takes her hair out of a bun to become a swan is a movie cliché that I hope I never see again (and I assume you mean that your wife is hot, not ugly with no social skills.) ed t: Doesn't his co-worker Leslie fit that bill?

    Women on the Big Bang Theory

  • "Let fly, then," says I, "in the name of God!" and with that I fired again among the amazed wretches, and so did Friday; and as our pieces were now loaded with what I call swan-shot, or small pistol-bullets, we found only two drop; but so many were wounded that they ran about yelling and screaming like mad creatures, all bloody, and most of them miserably wounded; whereof three more fell quickly after, though not quite dead.

    Robinson Crusoe

  • Upper Ririe reservoir, north of St. Anthony Sand Dunes, the flats in swan valley are pretty good places.

    when do animals shed their antlers? I have never been shed hunting before but want to give it a try.

  • In Tuesday's pictures, a Pakistani girl learns about the Quran, militants strike the parliament in Chechnya, a swan is captured on London streets and more.

    Photos of the Day: Oct. 19

  • The reason I asked about the swan is that I've known a few state wildlife biologists personally throughout the years.

    Thoughts on Lead Bans

  • Clio's swan is also missing at Gubbio, although it is difficult to imagine that the muse of History would not have been figured into both studioli by some erudite and clever means.

    Architecture and Memory: The Renaissance Studioli of Federico da Montefeltro

  • It may be that the swan is paddling furiously below the surface of the water, but one does not have a sense of great urgency.

    A Sense of Urgency is Needed

  • It turns out the swan is controlling a work hole with an infinite field effect.

    The Tail Section » My ‘Lost’ Duplicates Theory Lives!

  • On the morrow the king, when he had shaken off slumber, told the vision to a man skilled in interpretations, who explained the wolf to denote a son that would be truculent and the word swan as signifying a daughter; and foretold that the son would be deadly to enemies and the daughter treacherous to her father.

    The Danish History, Books I-IX

Comments

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  • "The Ialous swan, ayens his deth that singeth." (The jealous swan, sings before his death).
    - Geoffrey Chaucer, 'Parliament of Fowles'.

    August 7, 2009

  • absurd and out-of-season, a single swan
    floats chaste as snow

    from "Winter Landscape, With Rooks," Sylvia Plath

    March 31, 2008

  • In the hospital, a swan is a Swan-Ganz catheter, a special kind of line that snakes down the superior vena cava, into the right side of the heart, and out into the pulmonary artery. It's useful for measuring pressures in the pulmonary vasculature, a part of the blood circulation usually unreachable, and for measuring how much the heart is pumping.

    January 26, 2008

  • Ohhh... "I shall warrant." I guess that makes sense. Fascinating.

    October 29, 2007

  • C_b, I think you're on the right track. My understanding is that it was slang from the 1800s that made its way across the Atlantic at some point. Here's OED on the subject:

    "prob. north. Eng. dial. Is'wan, lit. ‘I shall warrant’ = I'll be bound; later taken as a mincing substitute for SWEAR v. Cf. SWANNY v."

    First time I remember seeing/hearing it was w/ Mark Twain.

    October 29, 2007

  • I don't think I've ever heard it. Where does it come from? If it's like "I declare," then was it originally "I swear," or something like that? I mean... why swan?

    October 28, 2007

  • My dad says, "I swannie!" No clue how to spell that.

    October 28, 2007

  • The equivalent of I declare, at least according to the way my mother used it. Good Southernism.

    October 28, 2007

  • As in "Well, I swan".

    October 28, 2007