New 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.