You want to really hurt an American? Call him a wuss. That's why all hell broke loose last week when Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell called America a nation of wusses after the NFL canceled an Eagles game because of a snowstorm. We can't stand to be considered weak. "We were the brash Paul Bunyan nation with a don't-tread-on-us culture," says John Strausbaugh, author of the book Sissy Nation. Now we feel that national identity slipping away. Strausbaugh argues that World War II traumatized US soldiers, who returned home to build safe, conformist lives and raise coddled kids. "Once we were warriors. Now we're worriers," he says.
But who's most fed up with wuss insults? Likely women and gays because sexism and homophobia is often at the heart of the slams. "Wuss" was popularized in the movie Fast Times at Ridgemont High, in which a character is described as "a wuss"—part wimp and part p—. "Whenever men pick a female body part and apply it to other men, that's the height of insult," a language historian tells the Wall Street Journal. But wait, maybe we're not so weak. One woman thinks a lot more games should have been canceled. "We're not wusses," she wrote Rendell. "We're a nation of fearless, bumbling morons in pickup trucks who like to drink beer, go shirtless in the freezing cold, and drive in blizzards."