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?
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.
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: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wog
'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.