No more Mr. Nice Wasp

Russell Baker

January 23, 1991|By Russell Baker

WE HAVE formed a new organization called Let's Get Touchy and are already at grips with many vexing language problems.

Foremost among these is choosing a word to replace the offensive term "WASP."

Once Let's Get Touchy becomes synonymous with righteous fury, no one will ever again be able to write or utter the word "WASP" with RussellBakerimpunity.

Those who try it will be subjected to large-scale picketing, silenced by mass heckling (occasionally amplified by bullhorns if they try to explain themselves), and rendered odious to all civilized humanity by being called -ists of the vilest sort.

"Yes," people tell us, "such insensitive louts must be called -ists of some sort, but precisely what variety of -ist do you propose to call them?"

This matter is still being debated by Let's Get Touchy's experts on hot-tempered language. One group favors the word "acronymist."

Since WASP is an acronym for "white Anglo-Saxon Protestant," these experts argue, people insensitive enough to use the term should properly be called -- loudly and angrily, of course -- acronymists.

Other experts, however, say acronymist sounds too much like agronomist, a word that put the whole freshman class to sleep back in Economics 101.

The function of an -ist word, these experts argue, is to enrage the public, not put it to sleep.

As with all minorities struggling to win justice from an insensitive nation, words are very important to members of Let's Get Touchy.

Some, for instance, wanted to call our group "Let's Get Mad." Others said "Let's Get Mad" lacked subtlety. They suggested "Let's Get Our Dander Up."

This was rejected after our style committee noted that it was bad English to end a name with a preposition. Thus, our compromise: Let's Get Touchy.

Why are we touchy about the word "WASP"? For one reason, because it is such an ill-informed word.

First of all, the "W" is superfluous, since all Anglo-Saxons are white.

Second, the "AS" betrays a profound ignorance of history, since Americans of British extraction, usually thought to be the bedrock of WASPery, are rooted as deeply in Norman France as in Anglia and Saxony.

Finally, the "P" ignores the agnostics and atheists in which our membership abounds, not to mention the 18th-century Deists so prominent among the Founding Fathers.

If people are going to stereotype us in acronyms, they should at least make their acronyms precise.

Thus, the "W" should be dropped as superfluous. The "AS" should be expanded to "ASNF" to allow for the Norman French, and the "P" ending should be extended to "PAAD" (Protestant, Agnostic, Atheist and Deist).

Instead of WASP's we would then be ASNFPAADs, which is not as much fun to say, but is a little more honest. It is even possible, by juggling the letters, to produce a pronounceable acronym: to wit, SNAPFADA.

Thus, people wishing to abuse, demean, and joke about us, as Richard Brookhiser does in his new book "The Way of the WASP," could at least save themselves from the humiliation of trafficking in superfluous, false and misleading alphabet.

And surely, Brookhiser, "The Way of the SNAPFADA" is the more amusing title.

Not that members of Let's Get Touchy are going to be any more amused about being called SNAPFADAs than the Knights of Columbus would be if their activities were recorded in a work titled "The Way of the Mackerel Snappers."

As soon as Let's Get Touchy has enough in the treasury to buy a bullhorn and have some placards nailed together, the world's Brookhisers will think twice before turning us into sport for the more sheltered persecuted minorities.

Perhaps, good Brookhiser, the prospect of being smeared as an acronymist holds no terrors for you, but once our experts on hot-tempered language come up with the right -ist word, you will have to find another wretched minority to joke about.

It won't be easy, Laughing Boy, because after Let's Get Touchy shuts off the SNAPFADA jokes, who will be left to laugh at?

Japan, maybe, until your publisher takes the yen and runs.

I can hear him now, sharing the celebratory champagne with your editor:

"Congratulate me, Harvey. No longer will our devotion to freedom of expression require us to be humiliated by bullhorn bullies from Let's Get Touchy screaming 'Acronymist!' wherever we go. I have just made a yen run around Brookhiser."

Coming soon: Fed up at being identified with George Bush and tasteless food, Let's Get Touchy strikes back.

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