Fact Check

What Is an American?

Was an article defining 'What is an American?' penned by an Australian dentist?

Published March 29, 2002


Claim:   An article defining "What is an American?" was penned by an Australian dentist.


Example:   [Collected on the Internet, 2001]

The following was said to be written by a dentist in Australia.

You probably missed it in the rush of news last week, but there was actually a report that someone in Pakistan had published in a newspaper there an offer of a reward to anyone who killed an American, any American.

So I just thought I would write to let them know what an American is, so they would know when they found one.

An American
is English ... or French, or Italian, Irish, German, Spanish, Polish,
Russian or Greek. An American may also be African, Indian, Chinese,
Japanese, Australian, Iranian, Asian, or Arab, or Pakistani, or

[Click here to expand text].


Origins:   As the reaction to essays from a Canadian broadcaster and a Romanian journalist demonstrate, Americans take great delight in encomiums to the freedoms

and diversity of the U.S. that are authored by citizens of other nations. The prolonged popularity of this item, long circulated as a piece penned by an Australian dentist, places it among the class of foreign-authored favorites.

This essay doesn't really belong in that class, however. The "What is an American?" article reproduced above was written neither by an Australian nor by a dentist; rather, it is the work of Peter Ferrara, an associate professor of law at the George Mason University School of Law in Northern Virginia. Mr. Ferrara's commentary was originally published in the National Review on 25 September 2001, two weeks after the 9/11 terrorist attacks on the U.S.

As is common with editorials of this nature, is has since been reworked into an essay praising Canada, with the (inaccurate) attribution to an Australian dentist remaining in place:

Australian definition of a Canadian...

You probably missed it in the local news, but there was a report that someone in Pakistan had advertised in a newspaper an offer of a reward to anyone who killed a Canadian — any Canadian.

An Australian dentist wrote the following editorial to help define what a Canadian is, so they would know one when they found one.

So the following is an Australian Definition of a Canadian. In case anyone asks you who a Canadian is?

A Canadian can be English, or French, or Italian, Irish, German, Spanish, Polish, Russian or Greek.

A Canadian can be Mexican, African, Indian, Chinese, Japanese, Korean, Australian, Iranian, Asian, Arab, Pakistani or Afghan.

A Canadian may also be a Cree, Metis, Mohawk, Blackfoot, Sioux, or one of the many other tribes known as native Canadians.

[Click here to expand text].


Last updated:   12 October 2014


    Ferrara, Peter.   "What Is an American?"

    National Review.   25 September 2001.

David Mikkelson founded the site now known as snopes.com back in 1994.

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