What’s in a name? 

Whistler Olympic Park acronym is an ethnic slur

This week the Vancouver Organizing Committee for the 2010 Olympic and Paralympic Games, better known as VANOC, at last put a name to the Nordic centre in the Callaghan Valley. The facility, which will host four Olympic and two Paralympic events, will now be known as Whistler Olympic Park, similar to Canada Olympic Park in Calgary.

According to Mayor Ken Melamed, who announced the name at Monday’s council meeting, the name was chosen because it encompasses both Whistler and the Olympics.

“These names are chosen to make sure that Whistler is mentioned in marketing and in thousands of hours of broadcasting during the Games,” he said.

However, as some have pointed out, the acronym for the new park will be WOP, which is also an ethnic slur for persons of Italian descent.

Pique Newsmagazine contacted VANOC to find out how the name was decided upon and if there were any concerns about the acronym, and was told that VANOC had no comment. A website for the facility is already up at www.whistlerolympicpark.com.

When VANOC uses the name they will spell it out as W-O-P, similar to C-O-P for Canada Olympic Park, and the public is expected to do the same.

No official complaints have been made regarding the name choice for the Olympic facility, and the Vancouver Italian Cultural Centre has voiced no opinion or opposition if the name is spelled out rather than spoken.

Although it’s generally a word that has fallen out of usage, it can still create controversies.

In 2004 McGill students were forced to remove copies of their paper, The Reporter, and change the web edition when a writer used the word “wop” in a story regarding actor Gil Bellows. That episode prompted Canadian linguistics writer Bill Casselman to do a little research on the word and how it became an ethnic slur for immigrant Italians.

He decided the word is most likely derived from “guapo”, a Spanish word for male Italian grape workers. In this context it means “pretty boys”, and was used as a dismissive term.

Another context is that the word is derived from the Italian word “guappo”, which can mean “dude” or “thug”, and was associated with mafia in that country.

Whatever the true origins, the term has been used to negatively describe persons of Italian descent.

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