United Statesian: Why Americans are Called Americans

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During my childhood years in Mexico, I often heard my friends rant about the injustice behind the term ‘American’ being reserved for U.S. citizens. The argument was that people from Mexico and Canada are also Americans or North Americans since they are part of the same continent. And yet, people from the U.S. have unreservedly held on to the word when it comes to distinguishing themselves from people of other nations. Citizens of Canada and Mexico are Canadians and Mexicans, respectively. So it stands to argue that those who hail from the United States would be United Statesians or some variation thereof), doesn’t it? Is this insistence in holding on to the word a case of bigotry, ignorance, or a narrow view of the world? Or is there something more to the whole ‘American’ debate? Read on to find out!

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A Jaunt Through History

Originally, ‘American’ was used to refer to any natives from the Americas which, in the 1500s, included both South America and North America. Over time, as more British migrated to the New World, ‘American’ became increasingly synonymous with ‘British American’ and was a way to differentiate between the British who had remained in the Old World and those which had moved to the Americas. After the colonies achieved independence from Great Britain and the fledgling United States of America was formed, the term ‘British American’ was obviously no longer needed. However, ‘American’ stuck and remains to this day.

The United Statesians

Still, why hasn’t a phrase like ‘United Statesians’ caught on as a way to reference U.S. citizens? Well, it’s all in the name. The United States isn’t simply the United States; the more accurate title is United States of America. In the same vein, Mexico isn’t actually just Mexico, it’s officially supposed to be called Estados Unidos Mexicanos whose English translation is: United Mexican States or United States of Mexico. So, we could actually argue that Mexicans should also be called ‘United Statesians’, right? Or Chinese ‘People’s Republicans’ since China is officially called the People’s Republic of China! But the important word here is obviously the last one which serves as the proper title to help define citizens of each nation. Hence Americans, Mexicans, Chinese, and so on.

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The Test of Time

In our current PC climate, many people seem to enjoy jumping on the bandwagon to ridicule Americans as self-serving, narcissistic jerks who take pride in having stolen the term from the very deserving countries that share U.S.’ borders. It’s important to note though that ‘American’ has actually served the test of time. It’s by no means a new phrase as it started becoming normalized during the 1600s, and since then has become the globally recognized moniker for United States citizens. Furthermore, as shown above, nothing else would really work here given that the country’s official name is United States of America – part of which is shared with other nations (like Mexico).

In Other Words

Latin-American countries have been quite adept at coming up with new ways of referring to their northern neighbors – some of which aren’t particularly complimentary. While sometimes people from the U.S. are called Americanos (Americans), the term estadounidense (from United States) is quite common in countries like Mexico (which is a bit ironic considering Mexico is also a United States). In nations like Cuba, where anti-American sentiments can be particularly strong, the word yankee is used to refer to United States citizens. Gringo/gringa is another widely-used, not so nice word used for Americans. Legend has it that the word gringo derives from the phrase ‘green go home’ which people would shout at the green-clad American soldiers invading their land. In the English language we seem to have been quite a bit less creative and it looks like ‘American’ is here to stay!

Photo via Flickr

The U.S. is one of the most hated nations in the world, so it’s really no surprise that people like to find issue with, and be critical of, even the minutest details. And while there are many reasons to criticize this country, using ‘American’ doesn’t point to any sort of ignorance or bigotry but rather the taking on of a name given by the mother nation during its early years of development. But what do you think? Is there are better way to refer to United States citizens than by simply calling them ‘Americans’? Share your ideas with us!

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