Monday's HOT MIC
No, the anti-Italian term "Wop" is not an acronym for "without papers." National Review's Jonah Goldberg destroys this common misconception at The Corner.
I tweeted that I thought this “without papers” thing was ridiculous. To my amazement, I found out that a great many people believe it to be true, including people far more well-read and educated than I am. So, it’s not ridiculous to think it’s true. It’s more like one of those things everyone knows is true — like the need to drink eight glasses of water every day — that turns out not to be.
From the online etymological dictionary (one of my favorite sites):derogatory for “Italian,” 1912, American English slang, apparently from southern Italian dialect guappo “dandy, dude, stud,” a greeting among male Neapolitans, said to be from Spanish guapo “bold, dandy,” which is from Latin vappa “sour wine,” also “worthless fellow;” related to vapidus (see vapid). It is probably not an acronym, and the usual story that it is one seems to date only to c. 1985.
Many people do believe the "without papers" explanation, however. Here's why it doesn't make sense.
What I find so fascinating is that so many people thought it was true. My Dad grew up in the Bronx in the 1930s where Jews, Italians, and Irish traded epithets quite a bit. The idea that the Jews and the Irish would single-out the Italians (as likely to be as American-born or immigrants as anyone else) for lacking sufficient citizenship paperwork just strikes me as bizarre. Lots of people showed up at Ellis Island without “papers.”
Goldberg concluded by quoting his own book, Liberal Fascism: The Secret History of the American Left, From Mussolini to the Politics of Change. In that book, he tells the story of how Will Rogers went to Europe in 1926. When The New York Times asked Rogers what he thought of Benito Mussolini, he described the Italian dictator as "some Wop."
"I have to assume that Rogers didn’t have Mussolini’s lack of paperwork in mind," the author quipped. Case closed.