Monday, July 09, 2007

Americans or Unitedstatesian?

Last week, the New York Times published a translation of a French post by two Le Monde journalists on whether Americans should call themselves “United Statesians” instead of “Americans”.

The word "American" is so deeply embedded in your nation's identity that it may seem curious to you that there could be any discussion about it, but some people - in Latin America, for example - find it offensive, while others, including some in France, simply find it imprecise.

Granted there may be some ambiguity at times:

“Américain” (in French the ethnonym is capitalized, the adjective is lower case) is a word with many meanings, depending on context: “américains” applies to all Américains (from the United States), yet all Américains (from North and South America) are not necessarily américains.

But it seems to me that this is mostly a problem in Latin America and in Canada. Some Canadians resent being referred to as Americans and many people in Central and Southern America would not use it at all.

As Wikipedia puts it:

In Spanish, americano often refers to the entire New World; the adjective and noun describing the United States is estadounidense, deriving from Estados Unidos de América, the United States of America. Also, the terms estadounidense, norteamericano and gringo are popularly used in some Central American and South American countries to describe the people of the United States. The differences in usage of the cognates cause some cultural friction between U.S. nationals and Latin Americans; Latin Americans, in particular, may object to the primary English usage of American, feeling it unfairly appropriates the term.

Of course, there is not so much passion about this word in Europe. In French the term étatsunisien ("Unitedstatesian", derived from the French for United States, États-Unis) which came from French Canadians is rarely used.

But despite what the two Le Monde journalists claim, when the word is used, it is politically charged in French. It is always used by people who have an agenda: usually of anti or alter-globalization. It may even often connote anti-Unitedstatesianism (i.e. anti-Americanism for the rest of us). I have yet to see it used in a neutral non-political way.

If it were not so politically charged, I think it might be worth considering, although, the word sounds ugly and complicated to pronounce in English.

Some have had other suggestions:

Readers also suggested similar terms that they considered more melodic, like Usaniens or Usiens (following the example of the Greek word Usanos, derived from U.S.A., even though those initials are actually the equivalent of I.P.A. in that language)

And here's one more:

One uncommon alternative is "Usonian," which usually describes a certain style of residential architecture designed by Frank Lloyd Wright. (Wikipedia)

Personally, I will stick to “Americans” in English for the two reasons I just mentioned (because the word "Unitedstatesian" is hard to pronounce and because it is politically charged). But most of all, I will use it because... everybody else does, which is the most reasonable argument for efficient communication.

As far as the name of the country is concerned, I tend to use either "the U.S." or "America” indifferently, mostly to avoid repetitions, although I must confess I find the former more appropriate. ‘North America’ includes Canada and should include Mexico, the West Indies, and even Central America - but really does not! Sometimes I am inclined to use the word “America” to refer to the mythical country (the one where one finds the “American Dream” - or not) and the word "U.S." to refer to the political entity. But that's just me.


At 05:48, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Look at these maps and tell me where AMERICA is written:

And read this book, named the history of America, and tell in which the United States is named:,M1

At 15:01, Blogger Mélo said...

Interesting topic!
As a French person, I would like to point out that I have never heard the word "étatsunisien", but I did hear "états-unien" several times...

At 17:54, Blogger Plinio Fermin said...

America is not a Country, it's a whole continent.
The Organization of American States refers to contries of this continent, not to Texas, Carlifornia or NY.

At 06:43, Anonymous Anonymous said...

“In the popular Van Loon’s Geography of 1937, for example, the author describes the continental scheme with a light and almost humorous touch, concluding that one might as well use the standard system so long as one remembers its arbitrary foundations. Van Loon viewed the standard arrangement as including five continents: Asia, AMERICA, Africa, Europe, and Australia. While it might seem surprising to find North and South America still joined into a single continent in a book published in the UNITED STATES in 1937…”
The Myth Of Continents, A critique of metageografy, by Martin Lewis and Karen Wigen, page 32.
Read the book here:,M1

At 06:45, Anonymous Anonymous said...

“We have been taught in school (way back in the 60’s in Europe) that there are five continents, Africa, AMERICA, Asia, Australia and Europe, for instance symbolised in the five rings of the Olympic Games”
Read complete here:


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