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From: Joe Walker (Email him)
The whole hyphenated American phenomenon was actually started by the WASPs. They felt that people born in the United States of non-British ancestry were less American and should therefore have a qualifier added such as Irish-American, German-American, Italian-American and so on. This is why you never see anyone described as being English-American or British-American since people of English/British ancestry were seen as true Americans and therefore did not need any qualifiers.
Joe Walker is an American of Irish descent.
James Fulford writes: I think that it's more likely to have been immigrant societies that started the custom—my impression is that old stock Americans would have been more likely just to say Irish or German, even when the people they were talking about had been born in America. However, our reader is right that the Anglo-Saxon is more likely to sink his ethnicity in his status as an American. This from Alien Nation, p. 209
"However, although intellectuals may have decided that America is not a nation but an idea, the news has not reached the American people—especially that 5.25 percent who sternly told the Census Bureau in 1990 that their ethnicity was 'American.'
"(They seem usually to be of white Colonial stock, often from the mountain South. Significantly, the tendency to self identify as 'American' diminishes very sharply wherever ethnic diversity appears. Thus self-reported 'Americans' are a high proportion of the homogeneous English-origin counties of Maine—but not in those counties that also have French-origin settlements.)"