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It originated between 1910 and 1915 in the United States. According to Merriam-Webster, its first known use was in 1908. The commonly accepted etymology is that it originates from a southern Italian dialect term guappo, meaning thug, derived from the Spanish term guapo, meaning handsome, via dialectical French, meaning ruffian or pimp. This also has roots in the Latin vappa, meaning wine gone flat.
This theory holds that the term was brought to the U.S. by early Southern Italian immigrants from the region of Campania, who named those suspected to belonging to the Guapparia "Guappi", in a similar fashion Sicilian people used the term "Mafiosi". Widely used in Chicago where most immigrants from Campania settled, it was confused by non-Italian people to indicate Southern Italians in general, like the word "paesano".
Another theory is that the term WOP is originally from an acronym that stood for "With Out Papers". Many of the immigrants that came to Ellis Island in the '20s had to be separated into waiting areas because they lacked documentation. There came to be so many of them that the letters W.O.P. was written onto their shirts or their bare skin to identify them. Since many of these immigrants were Italian at the time, the term WOP came to be used as a racial slur about them.
Although the history of the word wop is not entirely certain, it can be found in various forms throughout popular culture. One example is the bar fight scene in the film From Here to Eternity. During the Watergate scandal, President Richard Nixon referred to United States District Court Judge John Sirica as a "gol' darn wop."
- Embury, Stuart P. (2006). "Chapter One: The Early Years". The Art and Life of Luigi Lucioni. Embury Publishing Company. pp. 1 -4.
- Peter Bondanella (2005). Hollywood Italians: Dagos, Palookas, Romeos, Wise Guys, and Sopranos. Continuum International Publishing Group. p. 36. ISBN 978-0-8264-1757-2.