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The Merriam-Webster dictionary states wop's first known use was in the United States in 1908, and that it originates from the Southern Italian dialectal term guappo, roughly meaning "dandy", "dude", or "stud", derived from the Spanish term guapo, meaning "good-looking", "dandy", from Latin vappa for "sour wine", also "worthless fellow".
In Neapolitan and other Southern Italian dialects, guappo is pronounced as wah-po. As Southern Italian dialects often feature unaspirated stops or "swallow" the final vowels in a word, guappo would often sound closer to wahpp to American or Anglo ears. Guappo historically refers to a type of flashy, boisterous, swaggering, dandy-like men in the Naples area. The word eventually became associated with members of the Camorra and has often been used in the Naples area as a friendly or humorous term of address among men. The word likely transformed into the slur "wop" following the arrival of Italian immigrants into the United States, Italian immigrant males would often refer to one another as "guappo" in a jocular or playful manner; as these Italian immigrants often worked as manual laborers in the United States, their native-born American employers and fellow laborers took notice of the Italians' playful term of address and eventually began deploying it as a derogatory term for all Italians. The term "guappo" was especially used by older Italian immigrant males to refer to the younger Italian male immigrants arriving in America.
One false etymology or backronym of wop is that it is an acronym for "without passport" or "without papers", implying that Italian immigrants entered the U.S. as undocumented or illegal immigrants. The term has nothing to do with immigration documents, as these were not required by U.S. immigration officers until 1918, after the slur had already come into use in the United States.
Another backronym is that wop stands for "working on pavement," based on a stereotype that Italian immigrants and Italian-American men typically do manual labor such as road building. Turning acronyms into words did not become common practice until after World War II, accelerating along with the growth of the US space program and the Cold War. The first use of wop significantly predates that period.
- Embury, Stuart P. (2006). "Chapter One: The Early Years". The Art and Life of Luigi Lucioni. Embury Publishing Company. pp. 1-4.
- Wop. Online Etymology Dictionary. Retrieved on 2018-07-30.
- Wop. Merriam-webster.com. Retrieved on 2015-10-11.
- Wop. Dictionary.reference.com. Retrieved on 2015-10-11.
- Delgado, Richard; Stefancic, Jean (2004). Understanding Words That Wound. Westview Press. p. 57.
- Mencken, H.L. (2012). American Language Supplement 1. Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group. pp. 604–605.
- (in Italian) Quando il guappo non era camorrista, Il Denaro Nr. 159, August 26, 2006
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- Rappoport, Leon (2005). Punchlines: The Case for Racial, Ethnic, and Gender Humor. Greenwood Publishing Group.
- Milian, Claudia (2013). Latining America: Black-Brown Passages and the Coloring of Latino/a Studies. University of Georgia Press.