Tuesday, July 06, 2010

The Sting of the WASP

I was back to Hitch-22 last night, as it came up in the game of chapter roulette I'm playing with a few bedside tomes, and came across this noodle-scratcher of a passage where Hitchens examines the origin of the acronym, WASP:

First minted by E. Digby Baltzell* in his book The Protestant Establishment, the term stood for "White Anglo-Saxon Protestant." Except that, as I never tired of pointing out, the "W" was something of a redundancy (there being by definition no BASPs or JASPs for anyone to be confused with, or confused about.) "ASP," on the other hand, lacked some of the all-important tone. There being so relatively few Anglo-Saxon Catholics in the United States, the "S" was arguably surplus to requirements as well. But then the acronym AS would scarcely do, either.

Huh? The "S," of course, stands for Saxon--it is the "P" that would be superfluous in the face of Protestant homogeneity, as the example of the unacceptable acronym "AS" makes clear. (And why quotation marks for the fictional ASP, but not AS? And why am I using italics here instead of quotation marks for either? And who could possibly care?)

Anyway, I excuse the author here. We all make slip-ups, especially, I imagine, an Olympic-rated drinker like Hitchens. But there are people in publishing houses in offices or cubicles with potted plants who are paid (poorly) to catch these things. And what about all those friends in the acknowledgments to whom Hitch offers "special and snufflingly moist noises?" (I love that description.) These are the friends who are credited with "scrutinizing every line...noticing every weakness, and enhancing every paragraph."

I think at least some of them were skimming.

*I'm going to make that my porn name.