swap meet


noun

a fair or bazaar where objects, usually secondhand, are bartered or sold.

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Origin of swap meet

First recorded in 1960–65
Dictionary.com Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2020

VOCAB BUILDER

What does swap meet mean?

A swap meet is a place, often physical but sometimes virtual, where vendors sell or exchange goods, typically secondhand.

How is swap meet pronounced?

[ swop meet ]

Where does swap meet come from?

The term swap meet (with swap meaning “ to exchange, barter, or trade”) appears to have been in use since at least the late 1940s and early 1950s, though the concept predates it. Noted and long-running swap meet, the Paramount Swap Meet in Paramount, California, says it started in 1955. As today, swap meets back then were gatherings where people could trade or sell goods, usually secondhand and between parties with mutual interests. They had become so popular that much of the early documentation for swap meets concern laws introduced to regulate how they were run.

Though it was first used to refer to an engagement where any items could be sold, in the 1960s swap meets could also refer to similar engagements that dealt solely in car parts, with swap meets being popular among auto enthusiasts. At these meets, patrons could buy odds and ends for vehicles. This trend continues decades later, with one of the largest hosting over 9,000 vendor spaces.

It makes sense that swap meets would remain popular throughout the decades. Acquiring goods, especially rare or antique items, secondhand is considerably cheaper than paying full price. The rise of the internet has allowed for a greater number of swap meets as well, especially for niche interests—say, Japanese anime fashion. 

Swap meets are also important in the sale of antique and vintage goods. Because items are usually sold secondhand, pieces that would otherwise be impossible to find new may be more easily found here. These aren’t the only kinds of items present at swap meets, however, as items can also be handmade, unusual collectibles, or eccentric items of yesteryear, which can give swap meets somewhat of a “garage sale” reputation.

Digital classifieds and e-commerce sites like Craigslist and eBay have pioneered a new frontier of virtual swap meets, making a whole new range of treasures available and connecting entire new communities of buyers and sellers across the globe.

How is swap meet used in real life?

There may be several swap meets present in a city or area at designated dates and public spaces (e.g., fairground parking lots). Many can even be virtual, allowing for the potential of more customers or vendors to participate. Swap meets may have a theme or they may be more general in purpose, like a flea market. For example, there could be somewhat regular swap meets for the greater Melbourne, Florida, area or there could be a swap meet exclusively for owners of Volkswagen Jetta cars.

Swap meet can often be used interchangeably with flea market, as both involve selling secondhand goods. Like swap meets, flea markets consist of individual vendors or stalls, usually stationed outdoors. However, to some people, the difference between the two lies in the fact that some swap meets involve strictly swapping goods with no money involved, as opposed to flea markets, which usually deal exclusively in cash. Bartering and trading are permissible, depending on the individual swap meet.

In social simulation games, like Nintendo’s Animal Crossing, characters may participate in make-believe swap meets as part of gameplay. 

More examples of swap meet:

“Discovered at Pomona Swap Meet, this 1962 Chevy Impala convertible was completely reworked and given a coat of custom PPG paint.”
—@MotorTrend, May 2020

“Only two things have really changed. For years, the swap meet was held on low, grassy fields that instantly became muddy bogs when it poured, as it often did.”

—Ken Gross, Car and Driver, October, 2015

Note

This content is not meant to be a formal definition of this term. Rather, it is an informal summary that seeks to provide supplemental information and context important to know or keep in mind about the term’s history, meaning, and usage.