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Wog is a slang word in the idiom of British and Australian English, usually employed as an ethnic or racial slur and is usually considered derogatory and offensive.

In British English, wog is usually applied to Middle Eastern and South Asian peoples.

By contrast, in Australian English, wog is more often a term for members of ethnic minorities from Southern Europe and Middle East. Since the late 20th century, some members of these ethnicities have attempted to reclaim "wog", such as the Greek Australian comedian Nick Giannopoulos. Nevertheless, its use by other Australians remains controversial.

Use in British English[edit]

Wog in the UK is usually regarded as a racially offensive slang word referring to a dark-skinned or olive-skinned person from Africa or Asia and, therefore, it is not generally used. It can be applied to any darker-skinned people, but is used generally to refer to peoples of the East Indies and India, as well as immigrants from the Middle-East and Mediterranean. Most dictionaries refer to the word as derogatory and offensive.

The origin of the term is unclear. It was first noted by lexicographer F.C. Bowen in 1929, in his Sea Slang: a dictionary of the old-timers’ expressions and epithets, where he defines coonwogs as "lower class Babu shipping clerks on the Indian coast."[1] Unsupported folk etymology has long explained it as being an acronym for "Westernised (or "Wily") Oriental Gentlemen"[2] used by the British in India and Pakistan, referring to the educated indigenous populace. Many dictionaries say "wog" derives from the golliwogg, a blackface minstrel doll character from a children's book published in 1895, or from pollywog, a maritime term for someone who has not crossed the equator.

The saying "The wogs begin at Calais" (implying that everyone who is not British is a wog) appears to date from the First World War, but was popularised by George Wigg, Labour MP for Dudley, in 1949 when in a parliamentary debate concerning the Burmese, Wigg shouted at the Conservative benches, "The Honourable Gentleman and his friends think they are all 'wogs'. Indeed, the Right Honourable Member for Woodford [i.e. Winston Churchill] thinks that the 'wogs' begin at Calais."[3]

Use in Australian English[edit]

As with other slang and prima facie profanity used in contemporary Australian English,[4] the term "wog" may be employed either aggressively or affectionately within differing context. In Australia, the term 'wog' is used as a slur or pejorative against people of Mediterranean ethnicity who reside in the main cities of Australia. The slur became widely diffused with an increase in immigration from Mediterranean and Southern Europe in the 20th and 21st centuries. These new arrivals were perceived by the traditional Anglo-Saxon-Celtic majority population as too incompatible and contrasting with the larger Anglo-Australian culture. Mediterraneans were often labeled as unassimilable "others," both culturally and physically different (being seen as "swarthy" or "non-white.")

"Wog" is used particularly against immigrants in places in Australia, mainly Sydney and Melbourne. These cover those of Southern European, Eastern European, Levantine, Turkish, and Caucasian heritage.

In the media[edit]

More recently European-Australian performing artists have taken ownership of the term "wog", defusing its original pejorative nature—the popular 1980s stage show Wogs Out of Work created by Nick Giannopoulos and Simon Palomares was an early example. The production was followed on television with Acropolis Now, starring Giannopoulos, Palomares, George Kapiniaris and Mary Coustas, and films The Wog Boy and Wog Boy 2: Kings of Mykonos and parodies such as those of Santo Cilauro, Eric Bana, Vince Colosimo, Nick Giannopoulos, Frank Lotito, Mary Coustas and SBS Television's offbeat Pizza TV series have continued this change in Australian cultural history—with some even classifying a genre of 'wogsploitation' of pop-culture products being created by and for a proudly "wog" market.[5] Recent works of the genre have been used by Australians of non-English speaking backgrounds to assert ethnic identity, rather than succumb to ethnic stereotype.[6] Upon the release of Wog Boy 2, Giannopoulos discussed the contemporary use of the term "wog" in the Australian context:

I think by defusing the word 'wog' we've shown our maturity and our great ability to adapt and just laugh things off, you know... When I first came [to Greece] and I started trying to explain to them why we got called 'wog' they'd get really angry about it, you know. They were, "Why? Why they say this about the Greek people?" You know? But then when they see what we've done with it—and this is the twist—that we've turned it into a term of endearment, they actually really get into that...

Thus, in contemporary Australia, the term "wog" may, in certain contexts, be viewed as a "nickname" rather than a pejorative term[7]—akin to the nicknames ascribed within Australian English to other historically significant cultural groupings such as the English (nicknamed Poms), the Americans (nicknamed Yanks) and New Zealanders (nicknamed Kiwis).

Other meanings[edit]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "'Golliwog' is not connected with 'wog'". The Daily Telegraph (London). 5 February 2009. 
  2. ^ "...perhaps an acronym – either for Worthy Oriental Gentleman or for Worker on Government Service...", 13 October 2005, Andrew Clark, The Guardian
  3. ^ Hansard, House of Commons 5th series, vol. 467 col 2845.
  4. ^ e.g. bastard and cunt
  5. ^ "Wogsploitation makes its mark in mainstream". The Sydney Morning Herald. 17 May 2003. 
  6. ^ http://archimedes.ballarat.edu.au:8080/vital/access/manager/Repository/vital:828;jsessionid=1F4182ECBFF260960D2D5796D1E1BE08
  7. ^ Clark, Andrew (2006-10-13). "A bad word made good". The Guardian (London). 
  8. ^ Jessica Miscavige Hill with Lisa Pulitzer, Beyond Belief: My Secret Life Inside Scientology And My Harrowing Escape,' William Morrow, New York, 2013, p. 50

External links[edit]