Daily Archives: August 15, 2012

Hey, Are You Gonna Use That Hyphen?

Because of the coverage of the Olympics in London, I’ve been left with the impression that England has become somewhat of a melting pot in its own right. I love the British accent, but it’s more fun to hear it coming from someone who doesn’t look like they’re a Monty Python character. If you’re not paying attention, you hear the voice and expect to see someone in a proper suit with derby and bumbershoot. You turn to the telly and instead you see a black or an Asian or whatever explaining that there was an issue with “the windscreen of the lorry” or such with that delightful accent.

Interestingly, I didn’t hear any of these individuals describe themselves as “Serbo-English” or “Asian-English.” While this may have been edited out, I prefer to think that the Brits gave up on hyphenated nationalities when they no longer considered themselves Anglo-Saxons. I imagine that it may be the norm in many countries – if you become a citizen or a subject, then you go all-in.

I imagine that if someone wanted to be considered a hyphenated German, it would be firmly explained that none of the paperwork had a box to check for that. You are either German or non-German.

Many of the Balkan countries are complicated enough as it is. Imagine trying to claim to be a Kyrgyzstan-Herzegovinian. It would take too long to spell it out, much less check the spelling.

And France? I wouldn’t even broach the subject with the French.

In America, some people hang onto their hyphens with more vigor than my son holding onto a pizza. You have African-American, Asian-Americans, Hispanic-Americans and whatever-Americans. I know where Africa is, and I can even find Asia on a map, but where’s Hispania? Don’t tell me it includes parts of North America, Central America, South America, the Caribbean Islands, the Leeward Islands, etc. That’s cheating. Sorry, maximum of one continent per hyphen.

My surname is Polish, so I guess I could call myself Polish-American, but based on my parents family trees I’m actually more German than Polish. Besides, Poland has kind of come and gone as a country generally alternating between being invaded by the Germans and Russians. That’s why the German city of Danzig became the Polish city of Gdansk – or was it the other way around. In any case, invasions are interspersed by periods in which the borders with Lithuania, Belarus, the Ukraine, Slovakia, the Czech Republic and their forebears move around as quickly and unpredictably as preschoolers on a playground.

Should I refer to myself as German-Polish-American or Polish-German-American? To complicate matters, my brother has taken a liking to genealogy and has found that we also have roots in England, Ireland, and I forget where else. So now I’m really confused.

I considered calling myself a “Mongrel-American” but that doesn’t have any pizzazz to it. Besides it sounds like my ancestors rode with Genghis Khan and the Mongol hordes. “Potpourri-American” just doesn’t cut it and I’m sure “Heinz-57 – American” probably violates the copyright of trademarks, service marks and other protected verbiage. Multi-national-American sounds like a military task force.

I suppose we could all just call ourselves “Americans”.