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Some friend of mine told me it was an acronym for "western oriental gentleman" and was a form of sarcastic politeness. Is this true, and is it offensive to use this word?

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Hah! My first "protected question!". Apologies to anyone with less than 10 rep points who wants to post a useful answer. –  FumbleFingers Oct 3 '12 at 16:04
Checked Wikipedia? It seems to have most of your answers: –  Django Reinhardt Feb 1 '13 at 4:32

3 Answers 3

'Wog' is a word first applied to local inhabitants (Chinese) by British troops stationed in Hong Kong, B.C.C. The British High Commissioner issued a bulletin to all British troops to refrain from using racial slurs when referring to the Chinese and Indian inhabitants. Such slurs were 'babu', 'chink', etc. The High Commissioner further required the troops to refer to the Chinese and Indians in Hong Kong as 'Worthy Oriental Gentleman'. The British troops turned it around and began to call the local population 'WOGs' (just as pejorative as the other names for the locals). Since that time 'WOG' has been extended to mean Europeans from southern Europe and natives of the middle eastern countries. 'WOG' was also applied later to any racially distinct people on the continent--still later, in jest, to any people who were not English. It was said of Winston Churchill that he believed the WOGs begin at Calais. Of course, the word WOG is not applied to Americans since they are not a 'volk', a racially distinct people.

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This answer partly overlaps with, partly differs from previous answers. But the previous answers supplied sources. –  Edwin Ashworth Oct 3 at 12:46
I am bold enough to declare myself as the source, having worked as proof-reader and copyreader at the China Mail newspaper (the tabloid publication of the South China Morning Post) in Hong Kong where I came across these titbits of Woggish information from Englishman on the staff. I am American. If this source isn't good enough for your high scholarly standards, go fish! –  user3847 Oct 3 at 20:00
People supplying answers are supposed to do their own fishing. –  Edwin Ashworth Oct 3 at 20:52
brilliant riposte. –  user3847 2 days ago

Etymonline gives its derivation as:

wog c.1920, "a lower-class babu shipping clerk" [Partridge]; later World War II British armed forces slang for "native of India" (especially as a servant or laborer), possibly shortened from golliwog. Many acronym origins have been proposed, none found satisfactory.

So the acronyms may be folk etymology.

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And if a word pre-dates WWII, chances are it's not an acronym. –  Hugo Dec 29 '12 at 20:42

In the UK it is a "racially offensive slang word referring to a dark-skinned or yellow person from Africa or Asia." (link: "wog")

In Australia it was a slang term used to describe common illnesses, such as the cold or flu. It then became a derogatory term, as above. Recently, beginning in early 1990's, it became a backronym for "Worthy Oriental Gentleman", embraced by those who the term was used to describe; now used more affectionately (could possibly be considered "sarcastic politeness").

It can be an acronym for several other things:

  • "Whole Of Government. Used to describe Australian Government-wide outsourcing contracts"
  • "Working On Government Service, referring to Indians working for the British Raj, or referring to Egyptian labourers working on the Suez Canal during the British Occupation in the early 20th Century."
  • "Western/Westernized/Wild/Wily/Worthy Oriental Gentleman."

Primary Source:

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If you're going to copy and paste from Wikipedia, you should source it. –  victoriah May 11 '11 at 9:36
I'm Australian, grew up in the suburbs of Melbourne in the 1970s and 1980s and never heard "wog" in reference to people from Africa or Asia. Rather it was used in reference to people from the Mediterranean countries, chiefly Italians and Greeks. I can verify the cold/flu sense though. –  hippietrail May 11 '11 at 12:33
I'm caucasian, in the UK, and I don't recall there being any ethnic minorities in my primary school many decades ago. But the other kids nicknamed me "wog" as a derogatory epithet, for no particular reason that I've ever been aware of. I suspect many of those kids didn't even know what it was supposed to mean - it was just an insulting term that didn't bring down the wrath of any teacher that might have overheard. Today's schoolkids would probably be punished far more for calling someone a "wog" than a "f*king cnt" in the playground. –  FumbleFingers May 11 '11 at 17:16
No, no. Dark-skinned people from Africa or Asia are niggers, while wogs begin at Calais. (see the drunken Major from Fawlty Towers and others: up to the 1940s I believe people actually did draw a distinction) –  TimLymington Oct 6 '11 at 10:04

protected by FumbleFingers Oct 3 '12 at 16:02

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