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Whence wop?
Wednesday, September 12, 2007   2:40 PM

After quite a bit of searching, I can find neither a definitive spelling for wop or WOP or whop, nor a clue as to its etymology.

I'm not talking about wop, a vulgar term for Italians that (despite the insistence of ignorant folk etymologists who claim it stands for "WithOut Papers") probably comes from either the Italian guappo or the Spanish guapo, both of which mean something like "dandy."

I'm not sure if they say this outside the Midwest, but around here wop is a drink made by soaking fruit in hard liquor overnight. Here's a recipe.

(Though the slur wop may be the source of red wop, a term for cheap wine, I don't think there's any relation to the Midwestern wop.)

For the record, wop wap is the most common spelling.

And I'm pretty sure it's not supposed to be WOP. As the WithOut Papers folk etymology shows, acronym etymologies are usually suspect (and again, when editing, all etymologies should be suspect). So while I have no evidence to counter instances of WOP, like the one you see in this Ripon College drugs and alcohol policy, it's just not a likely etymology.

And what would WOP even stand for there? Feel free to phrase your guesses as statements of fact: let a thousand backronyms bloom!

The popular etymology has it that wop comes from whopatooli, via clipping. My coworker of donkey fame says it comes from whopatoo, but I'm starting to suspect that she's done all her drinking on another planet.

For the not-a-word crowd, there's a definition of whopatooli at Is that good enough?

\whop-a-two-lee\ Noun: 1. A punch-like alcoholic beverage whose ingredients include beer, rum, vodka, Kool Aid, 7-Up, ginger ale, and chunks of fruit. 2. A collection of loosely related items. See also: Gallimaufry, Hodgepodge.

Unfortunately, I can't find an origin for whopatooli or any proof of this wop origin theory beyond Internet assertions.

The trail prettymuch stops cold there, although my older coworkers have confirmed that both terms have been in use for at least 25-30 years. Neither word appears in this sense in any of the dictionaries I looked at, though I'm holding out hope for Cassell's Dictionary of Slang.

An alternative theory might tie the notoriously alcohol-filled wop to whop, an old verb meaning "to strike with a heavy blow."

The fact that the origin of this regional, but nonetheless fairly common term is so opaque makes me really appreciate the lexigraphical footwork that must have been required to trace a term like 420, with which wop probably shares the same underground, teen-to-twentysomething roots.

[Update: 9/13]

According to Joan Hall at the Dictionary of American Regional English:

Wish I could help on the etymology, but we're as much at a loss as you are. Our earliest citations (from early 1980s) are for "wapatuli" and similar variants; I suspect that the "wap," "whop," and "wop" variants are clippings from the longer forms. The term (in many forms) seems to have spread widely, but I agree with you that it does seem to have been Upper Midwest in origin.

At the very least, this points me to a bunch of new spellings, and it does help verify the clipping etymology — but with only the Internet as a corpus, I don't expect to succeed where the pros have failed. Anyone with some insight on the origin of wapatuli is encouraged to comment.

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