I never thought I’d say this, but: Mazel tov, Donald J. Trump! You have been officially inducted into the Wimp Hall of Fame.
Good news for George Herbert Walker Bush: As of today, he is no longer the biggest wimp ever to serve as President of the United States.— Ann Coulter (@AnnCoulter) January 25, 2019
Immigrant-loathing scourge and recurring “Real Time with Bill Maher” guest Ann Coulter was referring, of course, to the president’s agreeing to end the 35-day government shutdown without receiving a single taxpayer dollar for a “beautiful,” “artistically designed” wall on the southern border of the U.S. (the wall that he promised, during his campaign, Mexico would pay for).
Although Trump insisted his cave-in was “in no way a concession,” many of his fellow Republicans begged to differ. A Tea Party founder, Mark Meckler, called Trump’s move “pathetic and disgusting.” Breitbart, the right-wing news outlet, called it a “short-term surrender to the Democrats.”
But the punchy, one-syllable wimp was the epithet that stung – and stuck. It was echoed by Senator Mazie Hirono, Democrat of Hawaii, who called Trump “an amoral, lying person,” and added: “I guess if Ann Coulter yells at him he turns into a wimp.” Ouch!
Wimp even made it into headlines outside the U.S.
The Times (UK), January 27, 2019
Credit where it’s due: the wimp label puts Trump in distinguished company. An October 1987 Newsweek cover story forever associated then-candidate George H.W. Bush with “wimp factor.” (Wimp was added by the story’s editor over the objections of the reporter.) The not-very-subtle subtext was that as vice president, Bush had been a meek, subservient shadow of the supposedly macho Ronald Reagan. Bush fought back, and eventually the “wimp” label fell on his Democratic opponent, Michael Dukakis, mostly because he was several inches shorter than Bush.
Twenty-five years later, another patrician presidential candidate, Mitt Romney, got the same treatment from Newsweek.
Whence this wimp? Frustratingly, its origins are not clear cut. Today, it’s used in the U.S. exclusively in reference to men, but in the UK, beginning in the 1920s, it was a slang word for “woman” or “girl.” (According to a 1940 source cited by the OED, Public School Slang, said the word was “a corruption of women.”) It emerged briefly around the same time on this side of the Atlantic, where it signified “a feeble or ineffectual person; one who is spineless or ‘wet’” (OED again; “wet” as in feeble, soppy, ineffectual, “a drip.”)
But there’s a mystery here: after a single 1920 citation (in George Ade’s Hand-made Fables), wimp disappeared for some four decades. It resurfaced in a 1964 issue of American Speech, the journal of the American Dialect Society, with this notation: “a baff is ‘a person who does silly things deliberately’; but wimp is still mysterious and undefined in my notes.” By 1966, Current Slang, published at the University of South Dakota, had come up with a definition – “a backward person” – that didn’t quite match the inflection of the example sentence: “He’s a real wimp on a date.”
The OED speculates that wimp might have come from whimper: an imitative term for a feeble, broken cry. In some English dialects, a wimp means the cry of a dog. (This would be poetic justice for Trump, who does not own a dog but loves to compare people, things, and actions to dogs.)
The adjective wimpy first appeared in print in 1967, according to the OED, which says it’s “orig. U.S.”
Diary of a Wimpy Kid (2007), written and illustrated by Jeff Kinney
But capital-W Wimpy had been around much longer: it’s the surname of a character introduced in 1934 by E.C. Segar in his “Popeye” comic strip. J. Wellington Wimpy – a gluttonous, parsimonious, cowardly fellow who “lives off the land through his ill-gotten gains” – may have been named for one H. Hilliard Wimpee, who had worked with Segar at the Chicago Herald-Examiner.
Almost immediately, the character’s name inspired a brand name: Wimpy Grills, which opened its first location in Bloomington, Indiana, in 1934. At its height, the chain had 27 U.S. locations, but after the founder’s death in 1977 the trademark rights lapsed and the restaurants closed. The brand continued to thrive in the UK, South Africa, and elsewhere, thanks to an international licensing arrangement with J. Lyons and Co. The main attraction was, of course, hamburgers.
“Wimpy, the Glorified Hamburger” – Chicago, 1952. Source
Wimp has also inspired ironic acronyms. In physics, a WIMP is a “weakly interacting massive particle”; in human-computer interaction, WIMP stands for “windows, icons, menus [or mouse], pointer [or pull-down menu].”
Last week was not the first time Donald Trump had earned the “wimp” pejorative. In March 2018, Chicago Tribune columnist Steve Chapman wrote that the president “melted like a chocolate bar on a hot sidewalk” when the North Korean dictator Kim Jung Un invited him to a meeting. The headline on the column: “Trump, the Wimp.” And in August 2018, former Democratic Congresswoman Elizabeth Holtzman observed of Trump’s reluctance to speak with special prosecutor Robert Mueller: “It’s kind of being a wimp.”
Wimp rhymes with, and evokes, simp (from simpleton) and limp; it carries insinuations of unmanliness (perhaps from that old meaning of woman) and shares an initial letter with weak. Like cuck and soy boy – two epithets that emerged from the current political climate – it betrays anxieties about masculinity and performance. It’s a potent linguistic weapon against a public figure who is “perversely insistent on his manhood,” as New York Times columnist Frank Bruni put it last year. The question is whether calling that manhood into question will provoke a dangerously spiteful overreaction.
The Telegraph (UK), January 27, 2019