American (word)

American (word)

Use of the word "American" in the English language differs according to the historic, geographic, and political context in which it is used. It derives from "America" , a term originally denoting all of the New World (also the Americas), and its usage has evolved.

The standard way to refer to a citizen of the United States is as an "American." Though "United States" is the formal adjective, "American" and "U.S." are the most common adjectives used to refer to the country ("American values," "U.S. forces"). "American" is rarely used in American English to refer to people not connected to the United States [Wilson, Kenneth G. (1993). "The Columbia Guide to Standard American English". New York: Columbia University Press, pp. 27–28. ISBN 0231069898.] . In British English "American" can refer to somebody or something from the "Americas", or from the USA, depending on context.Fact|date=August 2008

The word can be used as both a noun and an adjective. In adjectival use, it is generally understood to mean "of or relating to the United States of America"; for example, "Elvis Presley was an American singer" or "the American president gave a speech today;" in noun form, it generally means U.S. citizen or national. When used with a grammatical qualifier the adjective "American" can mean "of or relating to the Americas," as in Latin American or Indigenous American. Less frequently, the adjective can take this meaning without a qualifier, as in "American Spanish dialects and pronunciation differ by country," or "the ancient American civilizations of the pre-Columbian period were advanced in mathematics and astronomy." A third use of the term pertains specifically to the indigenous peoples of the Americas, for instance, "In the 15th century, many Americans died from imported diseases during the Spanish conquest".

Other languages

The Spanish, French, Portuguese, German, and Italian languages use cognates of the word "American", in denoting "U.S. citizen". In Spanish, "americano" denotes geographic and cultural origin in the New World; the adjective and noun, denoting a U.S. national, "estadounidense" (United Statesman), derives from "Estados Unidos de América" (United States of America). Portuguese, has "americano", denoting a person or thing from the Americas, and for a U.S. national and things "estadunidense" (United Statesman), from "Estados Unidos da América", "norteamericano" (North American), and "ianque" (Yankee). Fact|date=December 2007 In French, "étasunien", from "États-Unis d'Amérique", distinguishes U.S. things and persons from the adjective "américain" denoting persons and things from "the Americas"; like-wise, the German usages "U.S.-amerikanisch" and "U.S.-Amerikaner" observe said "cultural" distinction, solely denoting U.S. things and people.

The Spanish words "estadounidense" (United Statesman), "norteamericano" (North American), "yanqui" (Yankee), and gringo are Mexican, Central American, and South American usages denoting U.S. things and persons. In personal denotation, "gringo" means a "norteamericano", in particular, and anglophones in general, and, linguistically, any speech not Spanish, i.e. "She is speaking gringo, not Spanish".Fact|date=September 2008 Cognate usages may cause cultural friction between U.S. nationals and Latin Americans who object to American English's exclusionary denotations of "American".

History of the word

The derivation of "America" has several explanatory naming theories. The most common is Martin Waldseemüller's deriving it from "Americus Vespucius", the Latinised version of Amerigo Vespucci's name, the Italian merchant and cartographer who explored South America's east coat and the Caribbean sea in the early 1500s. Later, his published letters were the basis of Waldseemüller's 1507 map, which is the first usage of "America". (See cite web|last=Cohen|first=Jonathan|title=The Naming of America: Vespucci's Good Name|url=|accessdate=2007-06-26)

In 1886, Jules Marcou said Vespucci renamed himself from "Alberigo" Vespucci ("Albericus Vespucius") to "Amerigo" Vespucci after meeting the native inhabitants of the eponymous Amerrique mountain ranges of Nicaragua Fact|date=June 2007 that connect North America and South America, an important geographic feature of New World maps and charts. Moreover, there is the 1908 theory that "America" derives from Richard Amerike of Bristol, England, financier of John Cabot's 1497 expedition. Cabot is believed the first Western European on the mainland. In the event, the adjective "American" subsequently denotes the New World's peoples and things.

The 16th-century European usage of "American" denoted the native inhabitants of the New World, soon extended to include European settlers, namely Spaniards and their children. In 1776, the Declaration of Independence and the Articles of Confederation proclaimed the country named "The United States of America". The confederation articles state: "In Witness whereof we have hereunto set our hands in Congress. Done at Philadelphia in the State of Pennsylvania the ninth day of July in the Year of our Lord One Thousand Seven Hundred and Seventy-Eight, and in the Third Year of the independence of America."

The first, official usage of the formal country name is in the Declaration of Independence: " [the] unanimous Declaration of the thirteen united States of America" adopted by the "Representatives of the united States of America" on July 4, 1776. [cite web|url=|title=The Charters of Freedom|publisher=National Archives|accessdate=2007-06-20] The current name was established on November 15, 1777, when the Second Continental Congress adopted the Articles of Confederation, the first of which says, "The Stile of this Confederacy shall be 'The United States of America' ". Common short forms and abbreviations are the "United States", the "U.S.", the "U.S.A.", and "America". Colloquial versions are the "U.S. of A." and "the States". The term "Columbia" (from the Columbus surname), was a popular name for the U.S. and for the entire geographic Americas; its usage is restricted to the District of Columbia name. Moreover, the womanly personification of Columbia appears in some official documents, including editions of the U.S. dollar.

In the Federalist Papers, Alexander Hamilton and James Madison use "American" with two different meanings, political and geographic; "the American republic" in Federalist Paper 51 and in Federalist Paper 70, [cite web|url=|title=The Federalist no. 51|author=James Madison] [cite web|url=|author=Alexander Hamilton|title=The Federalist no. 70] and, in Federalist Paper 24, Hamilton's "American" usage denotes the lands beyond the U.S.'s political borders. [cite journal | first = Alexander | last = Hamilton | journal = The Federalist Papers | volume = 24 | url = | title = The Powers Necessary to the Common Defense Further Considered]

President Washington's farewell in 1796 says: "The name of American, which belongs to you in your national capacity, must always exalt the just pride of patriotism more than any appellation." [ [ The Premier American Hero-George Washington-May 2002 Phyllis Schlafly Report ] ]

Originally, the name "the United States" was plural — "the United States are" — a usage found in the U.S. Constitution's Thirteenth Amendment (1865), but its common usage is singular — "the United States is" — since the turn of the twentieth century. The plural is set in the idiom "these United States". [cite web|url=|author=Zimmer, Benjamin|date=2005-11-24|title=Life in These, Uh, This United States|publisher=University of Pennsylvania—Language Log|accessdate=2008-02-22]

Before the Constitutional Convention, several country names were proffered, the most popular being "Columbia". The problems of "the United States of America" as a name (long, awkward, imprecise) were discussed; the Constitution ignores the matter, using "the United States of America" and "the United States". The name "Colombia" (derived from Christopher Columbus; Sp: "Cristóbal Colón", It: "Cristoforo Colombo"), was proposed by the revolutionary Francisco de Miranda to denote the New World — especially Spain's and Portugal's American territories and colonies; it was used in the (short-lived) country name "United States of Colombia".

Early official U.S. documents betray inconsistent usage; the 1778 Treaty of Alliance with France uses the "the United States of North America" in the first sentence, then uses "the said United States" afterwards; "the United States of America" and "the United States of North America" derive from "the United Colonies of America" and "the United Colonies of North America". The Treaty of Peace and Amity, of September 5 1795, [cite web | url = | title = The Barbary Treaties: Treaty of Peace and Amity] contains the usages "the United States of North America", "citizens of the United States", and "American Citizens".

Semantic divergence among Anglophones did not affect the Spanish colonies. In 1801, the document titled "Letter to American Spaniards" — published in French (1799), in Spanish (1801), and in English (1808 — might have influenced Venezuela's Act of Independence and its 1811 constitution. [cite web | url = | title = La “Carta dirigida a los españoles americanos”, una carta que recorrió muchos caminos... es icon]

The Latter-day Saints' Articles of Faith refer to the American continent as where they are to build Zion. [ [ Articles of Faith 1 ] ] . The Old Catholic Encyclopedia's usage of "America" is as "the Western Continent or the New World". It discusses American republics, ranging from the U.S. to the "the republic of Mexico, the Central American republics of Guatemala, Honduras, San Salvador, Nicaragua, Costa Rica, Leon, and Panama; the Antillian republics of Haiti, Santo Domingo, and Cuba, and the South American republics of Venezuela, Colombia, Brazil, Ecuador, Peru, Bolivia, Paraguay, the Argentine, and Chile". [ [ Catholic Encyclopedia: America ] ] .

Different meanings

The use of "American" as a national demonym for U.S. nationals is challenged, primarily by Latin Americans. [cite journal | first = H. L. | last = Mencken | url = | title = Names for Americans | journal = American Speech | volume = 22 | number = 4 | month = December | year = 1947 | pages = 241–256 | doi = 10.2307/486658]

Political and cultural views

Latin America

The Luxury Link travel guide Fact|date=October 2008 advises U.S. nationals in Mexico to not refer to themselves as Americans, because Mexicans consider themselves Americans. The Getting Through Customs website advises business travellers not to use "in America" as a U.S. reference when conducting business in Brazil. [cite web| last =Morrison| first =Terri| authorlink =|coauthors =|title =Doing business abroad - Brazil| work =| publisher =| date =| url =| format =| doi =| accessdate =]

In Latin America, usage not distinguishing between the word "American" denoting the Western hemisphere's landmass, and "American" exclusively denoting U.S. nationals is perceived as disadvantageous to Latin American countries dealing with U.S. foreign policy. Fact|date=December 2007


The "Diccionario de la Lengua Española" (Dictionary of the Spanish Language) published by the Real Academia Española (Royal Spanish Academy), defines "estadounidense" (United Statesman) as "someone or something from or relating to the United States", the common Spanish usage for U.S. people and things. People originating from, or who have lived in, the Western Hemisphere might be called "americanos".

Moreover, the Royal Spanish Academy advises against using "americanos" exclusively for U.S. nationals: [ [ Real Academia Española ] ]

English translation:


Prior to Confederation in 1867, the word "Canadian" referred only to residents of the colony of Canada, which consisted of the territory of modern Quebec and Ontario. The term did not apply to residents of the colonies of New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island or Newfoundland. Collectively, the British colonies were known as British North America, and their residents referred to themselves as "British Americans." Only after 1867 did the term "Canadian" come to describe all the residents of the Dominion of Canada and the word "American" come to be seen a semi-pejorative.

In Canada, their southern neighbor is seldom referred to as "America", with "the United States", "the U.S.", or (informally) "the States" used instead,Fee, Margery and McAlpine, J. 1997. "Oxford Guide to Canadian English Usage." (ISBN 0-19-541619-8) Toronto: Oxford University Press; p. 36.] although "American" is the usual "demonym" in modern Canadian English. Modern Canadians rarely apply the term American to themselves — some Canadians resent being referred to as Americans because of mistaken assumptions that they are U.S. citizens or an inability—particularly of people overseas—to distinguish Canadian English and American English accents. Some Canadians protested the use of "American" as a national demonym in the past. [cite journal|last=de Ford|first=Miriam Allen|year=1927|month=April|title=On the difficulty of indicating nativity in the United States|journal=American Speech|pages=315] When Canadians need to refer to the larger continental context, "North American" (or "North and South American"), not "American", is the term in current usage.

People of U.S. ethnic origin in Canada are categorized as "American (U.S.)" by Statistics Canada for purposes of census counts. [ [ 97F0010XCB2001001 ] ]

The terms "Étasunien" and "Étatsunisien" are sometimes used in Québec French as a demonym for American citizens in place of the more common "Américain".Fact|date=December 2007

Portugal and Brazil

Generally, "Americano" denotes "U.S. citizen" in Portugal. Currently, Brazilians are "brasileiros" (Brazilians), rarely "americanos" (Americans), although the usage was different in the nineteenth century. Usage of "americano" to exclusively denote people and things of the U.S. is discouraged by the Academia das Ciências de Lisboa (Lisbon Academy of Sciences), because the specific word "estado-unidense" (also "estadunidense") clearly denotes a "United Statesman" and a "United Stateswoman".

Brazilians refer to themselves as "americanos", in general, and "Latino-americanos", in particular. Still, the word "América" has, in the past fifteen years, become a popular synonym for the U.S., especially in the big cities influenced by U.S. consumerism culture, especially after the great Brazilian immigration to the U.S. in the mid-1990s. In parts of the country "norte-americano" denotes someone from the U.S. and "América" denotes the other American countries. Fact|date=August 2007

United States

The United States Census Bureau reports 7.3 percent of U.S. residents to be of "United States or American" ancestry [ [ United States - QT-P13. Ancestry: 2000 ] ] based on responses to the 2000 Census long-form questionnaire (1 in 6 sample). Discrete responses of "United States" and "American" or an ambiguous response or a state-name response (excluding Hawaii) were aggregated as "United States or American". Distinct racial and ethnic groups such as "American Indian", "Mexican American", "African American", and "Hawaiian" were coded separately.

Diplomatic usage of "American" varies; in a speech given in Honduras, ex-President Clinton, speaking in Spanish, said: ". . . todos somos americanos" (. . . we are all Americans), as translated by the "Washington Post" newspaper and the CNN television program. [cite news | url = | title = Clinton promises to lobby for more aid |date= 15 March 1999 | edition = 149 | first = Suyapa | last = Carias | publisher = HondurasThisWeek] [cite news | title = Clinton Hails U.S. Efforts in Storm Zone | url = |date= 10 March 1999 | first = Charles | last = Babington | publisher = Washington Post] [cite web | url = | title = Clinton surveys hurricane relief efforts in Central America |date= 9 March 1999 | publisher = CNN]

"American" in other contexts

"American" in the "Associated Press Stylebook" (1994) is defined as: "An acceptable description for a resident of the United States. It also may be applied to any resident or citizen of nations in North or South America". Elsewhere, the "AP Stylebook" indicates that "United States" must "be spelled out when used as a noun. Use U.S. (no space) only as an adjective".

"The New York Times Manual of Style and Usage" (1999) "America" entry reads: the "terms "America", "American(s)" and "Americas" refer not only to the United States, but to all of North America and South America. They may be used in any of their senses, including references to just the United States, if the context is clear. The countries of the Western Hemisphere are collectively "the Americas" ".

"American" in international law

International law uses "U.S. citizen" in defining a citizen of the United States, not "American citizen", which is an informal, non-legal usage; an excerpt from the North American Free Trade Agreement:

"American" in U.S. Law (general)

"American" is defined in the sixth edition (1990) of "Black's Law Dictionary" as: "Of or pertaining to the United States". The two more recent (1999 and 2004) editions have no such entry.

"American" in U.S. commercial regulation

Products that are labelled, advertised, and marketed in the U.S. as "American Made" must be "all or virtually all made in the U.S." The Federal Trade Commission, to prevent deception of customers and unfair competition, considers an unqualified claim of "American Made" to expressly claim exclusive manufacture in the U.S. "The FTC Act gives the Commission the power to bring law enforcement actions against false or misleading claims that a product is of U.S. origin." [ [ Complying with the Made In the USA Standard ] ]

"U.S. national" in other languages

English, French, German, Italian, Japanese, Chinese, Hebrew, Arabic, popular Portuguese and Russian speakers may use "American" (Japanese: アメリカ人 roma-ji: amerika-jin), ( _ru. американец, американка,) (Mandarin Chinese: pinyin- "měiguórén", traditional- 美國人, simplified- 美国人) to refer to U.S. citizens. These languages generally have other terms for U.S. nationals; for example, there is "US-Amerikaner" in German, "étatsunien" in French, or "statunitense" in Italian.

In Spanish, "estadounidense", "estado-unidense" or "estadunidense" are preferred to "americano" for U.S. nationals; the latter tends to refer to any resident of the Americas and not necessarily from the United States. [cite book | title = Pequeño Larousse Ilustrado 1992 edition, look up word Americano: Contains the Observation: Debe evitarse el empleo de americano con el sentido de norteamericano o de los Estados Unidos (trans. Usage of the word with the meaning of US citizen or the United States must be avoided) | url = ] In Portuguese, "estado-unidense"(or estadunidense) is the recommended form by language regulators but today it is less frequently used than "americano" and "norte-americano".Latin Americans also may employ the term "norteamericano" ("North American"), which itself conflates the United States and Canada. However, this term may also refer to anyone from the North American continent, which also includes Mexico, Central America, and the Caribbean.

Worldwide, speakers of Esperanto refer to the United States of America with the term "Usono", which is borrowed from Frank Lloyd Wright's word Usonia [cite web | url = | title = Reta Vortaro: Usono] . Thus a citizen or national of the United States is referred to as an "usonano". The Esperantist terms for North Americans and for South Americans, by continent rather than country, are Nordamerikano and Sudamerikano, respectively.

Adjectives derived from "United States" (such as "United Statian") appear awkward in English, but similar constructions exist in Spanish ("estadounidense" or "estadinense"), Portuguese ("estado-unidense", "estadunidense") and Finnish ("yhdysvaltalainen": from "Yhdysvallat", United States); and also in French ("états-unien") and Italian ("statunitense").

The word Gringo is widely used in parts of Latin America in reference to U.S. residents, often in a pejorative way but not necessarily. "Yanqui" ("Yankee") is also very common in some regions. In Argentina, Uruguay and some regions of Brazil, the word "Gringo" is also used for any foreigner, not just for U.S. Citizens.

With the 1994 passage of the North American Free Trade Agreement, the following words were used to label the "United States Section" of that organization: in French, "étatsunien"; in Spanish, "estadounidense". In English the adjective used to indicate relation to the United States is "U.S."

Alternative adjectives for U.S. citizens

There are a number of alternatives to the demonym "American" (a citizen of the United States) that do not simultaneously mean any inhabitant of the Americas. One uncommon alternative is "Usonian," which usually describes a certain style of residential architecture designed by Frank Lloyd Wright. Over the years, many other alternatives have also surfaced, but most have long fallen into disuse and obscurity. Merriam Webster's Dictionary of English Usage says, "The list contains [in approximate historical order from 1789 to 1939] such terms as Columbian, Columbard, Fredonian, Frede, Unisian, United Statesian, Colonican, Appalacian, Usian, Washingtonian, Usonian, Uessian, U-S-ian, Uesican, United Stater." [cite web | title = EDline Vol. 4, no. 9, American versus US | url =] Nevertheless, with the exception of "U.S." or "U.S. citizen", no alternative to "American" is common. [cite book | title = The Columbia Guide to Standard American English | url =]

ee also

* Americas (terminology)
* Alternative words for British
* Adjectives for U.S. citizens


cholarly sources

* Chapter 8: “…So near the United States”.

External links

* [ "Diccionario de la Lengua Española" entry for "americano"]

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