MooT Question Icon
In 1964 the book The Protestant Establishment: Aristocracy and Caste in America by E. Digby Baltzell was published and a new acronym entered common discourse. What was it?

Etymology, Etymology, and more Etymology
as well as grammar, usage, euphemism, slang, jargon, semantics (meaning), linguistics, neologism, idiom, word origin, syntax, dialect, lexicon (vocabulary), diction, pidgin, synonym, antonym, homonym, cant, argot, lingo, and redundancy.

A picture of a moot game

The critically-acclaimed board game MooT consists of tough questions about the nuances of the English language.
To join our mailing list and get free brain-twisting MooT questions sent to you irregularly, enter your email address and then press submit.

E-Mail address:

Back to home page

Answer: WASP

The acronym WASP stands for White Anglo-Saxon Protestant.

According to the American Heritage Dictionary, it denotes "a white, usually Protestant member of the American upper social class." Baltzell, a University of Pennsylvania sociologist, popularized the word.

The Online Etymology Dictionary claims that he also coined it. But other sources state that it was coined in 1962 by Erdman Palmore [another sociology professor, I believe].

If anyone has further information about this etymology, please let me know.

Please note that these are draft questions for the board game MooT.
If you spot an error or disagree with anything I've said here,
please let me know and I'll fix it.
(the Mootguy)


Since anglo-saxons are necessarily white (or at least sort of beige) maybe a better acronym would be ASP.

Yes, we've all been stung by this one before...

Aren't all anglo-saxons white? it should be ASP, which is fairly apt as well - at least in its common usage, don't mean to offend..

Use of the term WASP has broadened significantly since its coinage.

Today any English-speaking Protestant of European descent may be called a "WASP", though most are not descended from Angles, Saxons, or members of closely-related tribes. Jews, Catholics, and Orthodox Christians are excluded.

This usage is ahistoric, simplistic, and trite: white Protestants in the U.S. comprise myriad national backgrounds and denominations. WASP was also the acroynm used to describe female pilots during World War II: The acroynm was also used to describe A member of Women's Airforce Service Pilots, organized during World War II as part of the U.S. Army Air Forces to ferry aircraft and to test new aircraft. The organization was disbanded in 1944.

Here's what I found in the OED:

A member of the American white Protestant middle or upper class descended from early European settlers in the U.S. Freq. derog.

1962 E. B. PALMORE in Amer. Jrnl. Sociol. LXVII. 442/2: For the sake of brevity we will use the nickname 'Wasp' for this group, from the initial letters of 'White Anglo-Saxon Protestants'.

1963 Times 2 May 15/5: There is such a thing as a 'Human Engineering Laboratory'; whether a man is a Wasp (white Anglo-Saxon Protestant) can decide his career.

1963 New Statesman 10 May 716/2: This year's executive model will be over six feet tall, clean-shaven, lean, and with large fleshy ears... He should try to be or pretend to be a WASP (White Anglo-Saxon Protestant) and ought to have gone to an Ivy League college, preferably Princeton.

1964 E. D. BALTZELL Protestant Establishment (1965) i. 9,: I should first like to show how the aristocratic process still worked quite well in the case of the family of Abraham Lincoln, and especially how the WASP establishment authoritatively retained the leadership of American society in the generation of Robert Todd Lincoln.

1968 Times Lit. Suppl. 4 Apr. 329/1 : The Jew can choose to leave his ghetto by 'passing' or by breaking the more and more flimsy barriers put up by Wasp (and non-Wasp) anti-Semitism, but the Negro cannot....
x-E. Howard Assistant Professor Department of English Kent State

Copyright 1998-2008 Blair Arts Ltd. All rights reserved.