Cuomo Lands A Wopper Over Italian Slur

Brooklyn_Museum_-_Climbing_into_the_Promised_Land_Ellis_Island_-_Lewis_Wickes_HineNew York Gov. Andrew Cuomo had a curious moment this week when he announced “I’m undocumented. You want to deport an undocumented person, start with me because I’m an undocumented person.”  Putting aside the bravado and drama, there was on aspect of Cuomo’s comments that caught me eye as an Italian-American (I am half Sicilian).  Cuomo declared “You know what wop stood for? Without papers.” That is news to me.

Cuomo, 60, said “I’m an Italian-American. I came from poor Italian-Americans who came here. You know what they called Italian-Americans back in the day? They called them wops. You know what wop stood for? Without papers.”

The Online Etymology dictionary would beg to differ.  The slur originated from southern Italian dialect “guappo” or “dandy, dude, stud.”  However, another site says it “derives from the Spanish guapo, meaning a dashing braggart or bully, and which eventually derives from the Latin vappa, meaning flat wine or scoundrel.”

This appears to be a Democratic talking point. James Kinney, the mayor of Philadelphia, reportedly said the following:

Well, you know, Ellis Island had opened in 1892. The bulk of Irish Diaspora came to America in the 1840s. We didn’t have papers either. We were undocumented. There was an anti-Italian slur, when I was growing up in my neighborhood called W-O-P — that’s without papers. If you come to the country without documents because you’re starving in your country or you’re being held hostage by drug dealers or you’re afraid your children are gonna be shot in the streets or on their farm, I think that that’s self-preservation and self-survival. And any group of people would flock to America because that’s been the historic place where people came to be saved.

The acronym theory has been widely rejected by various sites.  One such site reports that the earliest usage of “wap” is found in 1912 in Arthur Train’s Courts, Criminals, and the Camorra.


73 thoughts on “Cuomo Lands A Wopper Over Italian Slur”

  1. I spent 20 years in a community with a very large number of Italian immigrants. Their understanding as conveyed to me was “without papers”. The use of the term was considered derogatory when used by non-Italians, as in treating them as second class, but used by some with pride when referring to each other. There may have been a Sicilian aspect to it, but I didn’t get it.

  2. Well, well, Mr. Turley. Half Sicilian, huh? So am I, but my Sicilian part clearly shows up in my last name, of which I am very proud. You were not so lucky.

    Although you list several sites that supposedly clarify the origin of “wop,” where I came from it always meant “Without papers.” I agree with Late4Dinner’s posts.

    I’m wondering if you were just playing with the word “whopper” in the title of your post. If so, it should have been in quotes – as in “wopper.”.

    My great-grandfather came over from Sicily in the late 1800s, then brought over my grandfather in 1910. I don’t know if my great-grandfather was “without papers,” but I know that my grandfather got his citizenship by serving in WW I.

    I don’t take umbrage at being called “wop” by another Sicilian, but I definitely do if it is from a person from another nationality.

    1. jo5526 said, “I agree with Late4Dinner’s posts.”

      jo5526, you may not know this–yet–but you just put a target on your back.

      P. S. Thanks, anyway. I do appreciate it.

  3. Well, well, Mr. Turley. Half Sicilian, huh? So am I, but my Sicilian part clearly shows up in my last name, of which I am very proud. You were not so lucky.

    Although you list several sites that supposedly clarify the origin of “wop,” where I came from it always meant “Without papers.” I agree with Late4Dinner’s posts.

    I’m wondering if you were just playing with the word “whopper” in the title of your post. If so, it should have been in quotes – as in “wopper.”.

    My great-grandfather came over from Sicily in the late 1800s, then brought over my grandfather in 1910. I don’t know if my great-grandfather was “without papers,” but I know that my grandfather got his citizenship by serving in WW I.

    I don’t take umbrage at being called “wop” by another Sicilian, but I definitely do if it is from a person with another nationality.

    1. Growing up with a German name (not all that long after WWII) my parents nipped the problem of being offended by ethnic name-calling by just beating the name-callers to the punch, and we named our pets Krout, Schultz, and Heinie. To this day, those words bring nothing but happy thoughts into my mind.

      I think it saved everyone a lot of aggravation and unnecessary outrage.

      I can’t imagine what a nuisance it must be for you when someone calls you a wop and you have to wait and ask them what nationality they are before deciding whether to be offended or not.

      Better to do as the Maharishi suggests and just “feel the joy.”

    2. “You’ll find a lot of etymological bologna if you google the word “wop.” Supposedly it’s an acronym for “without papers” or “without passport” or “works on pavement.” Nope, nope, and nope.

      “Wop,” which originated in the United States, has been a derogatory term for an Italian since 1908. But it’s not an acronym and it has nothing to do with immigration documents.

      As we point out in Origins of the Specious, our book about language myths, immigration documents weren’t even required of newcomers until 1918.

      The word comes from guappo, a word in Sicilian and Neapolitan dialects that means a swaggering thug. It’s ultimately derived from the Latin vappa, or “sour wine,” a word the Romans used figuratively for a worthless guy.”

      Cordially, Bill

  4. Not only is the origin of “WOP” arguable but so is everything else. Pretty much everything people think they know is debatable.

  5. Just to point out, Mr. and Mrs. Andrea Cuomo arrived in the United States in 1926/27. By 1931, they had the capital assembled to open a grocery store, which they operated until they retired. It’s true that people at all social levels had a more austere existence then than they do now, it’s true that the life of a small merchant in a business with slim profit margins can be an uncertain one, its likely true that neither Andrea Cuomo nor his wife had much formal schooling, and it’s also true that they lived among impecunious wage earners and had an affinity for him. That having been said, it’s also true that Mario Cuomo grew up as a member of the petit bourgeoisie and (from the age of 26) lived his adult life as a member of the haut bourgeoisie. The film critic Michael Medved offered some time back that he’d lived his earliest years in a basement apartment in Philadelphia. By his adolescence, his family’s situation had improved so that he was attending high school in a glam section of Los Angeles, but he still had what he called ‘this bogus po’ boy routine’ (which included this particular ratty set of clothes). Medved got over it in his 20s. It appears (at least for public consumption) that the Cuomos never did.

    1. Excerpted from the Jonah Goldberg article linked above:

      “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.”

      Goldberg also refutes the without papers theory on etymological grounds. However, Goldberg also points out that common usage in a vernacular language remains quite independent of academic etymology. In fact, the academic etymologist refer to such misnomers as “folk etymology.”

  6. Prior to Ellis Island there was no welfare state. The taxpayers did not subsidize the illegals’ kids’ public school education, their health care, and a variety of other benefits. Think of what the schools could do with all of the money going to educate the children of illegals.

    1. Many of us would prefer to use our tax dollars to help immigrants and other folks who need help rather than use it to kill people around the world and destroy cities and infrastructure. If tax dollars were directed as people prefer rather than as those in power prefer, it would probably turn out that about 50% would direct their taxes to safety nets and 50% would direct their taxes to killing and destruction — which is about how taxes are distributed anyway. So just assume that your taxes were the part used to kill and destroy, not to help people.

      1. If we are compelled to tax people to ‘help’ them, just what’s in it for us in importing them?

      2. Howz this for a solution: let’s not have any taxes. That way we will not be having often acrimonious debates about how politicians spend money that other people earn. You keep your money and use it to assist immigrants, homeless, etc., however you want to spend it I keep my money and, well, I’ll just keep it.

        1. Howz this for a solution: let’s not have any taxes.

          A solution to what?

          1. A solution to a lot of things: the divisiveness driven by arguments on how to spend tax dollars, the unfairness of working and having someone else benefit from your labor, the shrinking of the middle class, political graft. I could go on.

            I know it is a radical (some would say crazy) idea, but I have always thought that I could spend my money better than someone else and I don’t like subsidizing politicians careers through my tax dollars. After all, they don’t subsidize my career. Why should I subsidize theirs?

            1. Vince, you’ve followed Joseph Sobran over the cliff into resentment-fueled anarchism. That’s too bad. Now, it’s not difficult to figure out that police forces and roads do not emerge spontaneously from the workings of the open market. One can elaborate on that observation, but that observation will do for the time being. Sobran, whose literary gifts did not preclude being obtuse, died a ward of the Commonwealth of Virginia, a humiliation I’m sure he did not anticipate.

              1. Nutcha,

                I have no idea who Joseph Sobran is. Thus, I would not follow him off a cliff or off the Brooklyn Bridge or into Hades or anywhere else for that matter. Whomever he may be, I suspect that if the government didn’t extract so much in taxes from him during his lifetime, he would have been able to afford his own accommodations in his final days.

                The Chicken Littles of this world seem to believe that, unless the government has its jack boots firmly on the necks of the governed, anarchy will result. I, for one, have more faith in the human condition. You should, too.

                With a few minor (and unconstitutional) exceptions, the United States went from a few small cities along the east coast to a world superpower without an income tax. That’s a lesson we can all learn.

  7. “I’m an undocumented person!”

    I could be wrong, but etymology notwithstanding, I think what one of Mario’s two talentless offspring was trying to say is “Ich bin ein Berliner.”

    Deutsch can be difficult, but roughly translated it means “If your gonna plagiarize, plagiarize from the best.”

    1. I am a Berliner. I am not a WOP. A WOP is an Italian immigrant to the U..S. Uylissis S. Grant was a native born guy but he went by the name U.S. Grant. He was a good President. He was a good General. We had another major war guy who was a President. His name was Ike. When I was a kid I had a bumper sticker on my bike which said: I Like Ike. That was a while ago. I like Harry Truman the best of those who served us in my life time. Tank Dog I was not alive when that dork FDR was around. Yeah, I was born in ’48. Harry did a lot of good things. So did LBJ. Read the Civil Rights Act of 1964 folks. All the way with LBJ!

  8. Wow, this deserves a celebration. Mr. Turley actually got something right! The epithet “wop” does, indeed, have nothing to do with immigration documents. And it traces back to the Spanish guappo and the Latin vappa. However, I don’t mind it when I’m called “mucho guapo,” in the modern sense.

    1. WOP is With Out Papers. It was a name put on Italian immiigrants. specifically Siciilian immigrants. Yo: WOP! Get Your Ass Off The Caboose! A Cabose was the last car on a train. Bye, bye Miss American Pie. Dorve my Chevy to the levee but the levee was dry. Good old boys drinkin whiskyey an rye, thinking this could be the day that I die.

  9. WOP(Without Papers) comes from Ellis Island. When Italian and Sicilian immigrants arrived with no documents, a card board sign was put on their chest. and they were sent for further examination

    1. True. But Ellis Island did some other things for immigrants. If you got off the boat and you name was Corleone then the clerk might change your last name out for the town from which you came. We have some politician named John Podesta whose grandparents came over from Podesta, Italy. They were of the mob family. Sorry to relate this to the world John but you gotta be honest.

  10. This nut Cuomo seems to be looking for “camera face time” to pretend he IS relevant as I guess he too, wants to run for president in 2020.” I am really getting tired of the vile, viciousness of the Lefties, and their bullying others. Italians KNOW what the score was then, AND now…we don’t need this loudmouth New Yorker telling us what’s up. Him and the Fake Italian, ‘DeBlasio(who changed his name from some German sounding one, need to get N.Y. back to what Guiliani had when HE cleaned up that Sh*thole City.

    1. “… who changed his name from some German sounding one …”

      Oddly, and for reasons still not fully understood, people with “German sounding” names sounded like “Adolf Hitler” decided to change their names in the mid 20th Century. It’s a real head scratcher.

  11. The fact that I am a Dago myself, gives me some perspective and also some right to yak on the WOP subject.

    We came over in order to run some mobs. I had a mob in a town which I will not name. Midwest. We had all sorts of guys who knew how to carry guns, knives, forks and whatnot in order to maintain some control. Bombs too. I was a mobster. No reason not to be. Don’t screw with us.

    1. I’m a WOP, I’m a WOP, I’m a WOP all the way.
      From my first use of a gun to my last dying day!

    1. Judging from his poor oratory skills, history of cashing in on his last name, rumors of incredible corruption, and personality like fingernails on a chalkboard, I’d say he’s Hillary without the excuse to blame anything on misogyny.

      1. When he ran for Attorney-General in 2006, one of his Democratic primary opponents was able to needle him into admitting he hadn’t been a working prosecutor since 1984 and had only spent about 18 months at it. His career as a working lawyer of any description was brief (in contrast to his father, who was a small-practice attorney for 16 years). He ran some shizzy non-profit for a while and then landed a subcabinet position in the Department of Housing and Urban Development during the Bilge Clinton administration. That department is wholly unnecessary, wholly inappropriate in a federal system, and shot through with corruption, so the job was a good fit for him. His tenure there was coincident with the efforts of the Democratic Party to put the screws to banks to lend to marginal loan applicants from among the Democratic Party’s clientele, using Community Re-investment Act provisions as a stick. That worked out so well.

        Cuomo is a reminder that the bulk of the New York electorate will eat any Democratic sh!t sandwich the political class puts on their plate. (Except for David Patterson, who actually was a satisfactory governor). His dealings with the power brokers in the Democratic Party (who aren’t enamored of him) is a consequence of his being just intimidating enough that counter-formations opposing his patron-client network never quite gel. Even in the repellent fraternity of New York politics, the Cuomos are considered by some to be exceptional. The late Russell Harding, whose father and brother were both consequential power brokers in the City and in Albany offered this concise description: “they’ve always been thugs at heart”. Papa Cuomo’s lifelong pal / consigliere was Jerry Weiss. I had the pleasure of meeting Mr. Weiss in 1984. Ever met someone whose presence in a room made you feel you needed to take a shower?

        The New York electorate can end this by refusing to vote for any more sh!t sandwiches. Of course, most voters will be passive.

        1. Well, it’s New York politics — with very rare exceptions it’s usually a choice between which tastes better, a sh!t sandwich or a turd pie. And if the NYT (read as democrat party) told them to, they’d vote for Hitler if he ran as a democrat, no questions asked.

  12. A “Wop” is a Dago. It is a person without papers. WOP. A person who snuck into the countrey from Italy. More precisely, Sicily. WOP

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