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Old June 6th, 2014, 06:58 AM   #1
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What is Your Opinion About the United States Being Called "America"?

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By Chris Kirk

In a Washington, D.C., bar not long ago, I was ambushed by a very nice young woman drinking a Long Island. We were exchanging the standard get-to-know-you questions: What’s your name, where are you from, what are your thoughts on the weather. While politely parroting these questions back at my conversation partner, I walked into a well-planned sneak attack:

Me: Where are you from?
Her: I’m American.
Me: What state?
Her: Columbia.
Me: So, South Carolina?
Her: No. Colombia, South America.

My new Colombian friend scolded me for misinterpreting “American.” Didn’t I realize, she lectured, how unfair, imperialistic, and U.S.-centric it is for U.S. people to steal the terms “America” and “American” to refer specifically to their country and themselves? She was American, she asserted. I’m American too, apparently, but only to the extent that I live on this continent.

I thought little of it—people are entitled to their perplexing opinions—until a friend complained a few weeks ago that she had suffered similar admonishment from a Costa Rican during a cruise. I asked some Latino friends about it, and they all reported that they personally believe it’s inappropriate for Americans to call themselves “American,” or at least know other Latinos who think this way. Americans have been attacked on this front for decades. “As everyone knows, the right of Americans to be so called is frequently challenged, especially in Latin America,” American journalist H.L. Mencken wrote in 1947.* Today, the battle continues not just in bars but on the Internet. A Facebook group with 1,800 likes assures the Web that America is a continent, not a country. Wikipedia editors have squabbled over it. On urbandictionary.com, the top definition for “America” is: “A country that claims the name of an entire continent to itself alone for no compelling reason.”

So let me say on behalf of all Americans to anti-“Americans” everywhere: We’re not going to stop using “America.” We should not stop. Get over it.

It’s true that “America” is an imperfect word. Its overlapping and inconsistent connotations mean that it is, at worst, confusing in its ambiguity, and, at best, an annoying reminder of the incoherence of language. Usually context can tell you when a person is talking about the rest of the continent instead of the United States, but, admittedly, the fact that it can go either way seems somewhat inelegant. If I could go back in time, I would play a linguistic King Solomon and split the word in two, granting “Ameri” to the continent and “Ca” for the country. I can’t, though, and a mild irritation is not reason enough to build a time machine or kill a centuries-old tradition.

It’s not just linguistic inefficiency that earned me a lecture during trivia night at the bar, though. It’s something deeper. As my Colombian friend told me, Americans calling the U.S. “America” is jingoistic, even imperialist—as if the U.S. owns the whole continent.

I’m not one to trivialize the importance of words and how we use them. The way we use words influences the way we think, and the rise and fall of a word, like a racial or homophobic slur, both reflects and reinforces social change. Let’s face it: Some traditions do deserve to die. That’s why Slate recently changed its editorial policy regarding the local professional football team.

Unlike such slurs, though, Americans calling the U.S. “America” is not malicious. Certainly, the practice coincidentally reflects the U.S.’s world power. But John Adams used “America” to mean the “U.S.” in his first inaugural address, well before the nation emerged as a world power.

Anyway, if it’s anti-imperialist sentiment that drives Colombians to lecture me on this, it would be best if we all divorced “America” entirely. The word itself is an import of Europe, based on the Latin name of explorer Amerigo Vespucci. We might as well rename both the continent and the country using some ancient Aztec words.

The boring truth is that Americans using “America” is not imperialist and jingoistic. It’s just intuitive and convenient, and though it rankles some South Americans (and, most likely, some Canadians and Mexicans too), it harms no one. True, it demonstrates that Americans don’t often think of the entire American continent as a coherent geopolitical entity in the same way they think of Europe. That’s not because they dismiss Latin America, though. It’s because Chile has never invaded Greenland and Canada hasn’t bombed Argentina. The idea of “America” as a continent doesn’t have many practical applications beyond soccer tournaments and plate tectonics.

Yet somehow some Americans have been turned on this issue. “Why this term ‘America’ has become representative as the name of these United States at home and abroad is past recall,” Frank Lloyd Wright once wrote. He proposed Americans use “Usonia” and “Usonian” instead of “America” and “American.” (In Esperanto, the U.S. is called “Usono.”)

“Usonia” and others like it, such as “Columbian,” “Columbard,” “Fredonian,” “Frede,” and “Colonican,” never gained traction, and they never will. Nobody should ex*pect Americans to adopt a name that strays so far from the actual name of their country. Argentines might as well call their country “Argonia” because “Argentina” offends me. Maybe Americans can resolve to always use the full title. “United States of America” has a lot going for it. Its length and cadence imbue it with a certain gravity that you can feel if you remember belting out the pledge of allegiance in elementary school. It’s also a mouthful of a formality, and, unlike “America,” it doesn’t have the pithiness to appear in every piece of music, poetry, and rhetoric that Americans produce. Let’s re-imagine some song lyrics using it:

United States of America, the beautiful ...
United States of American woman, listen what I say ...
They’re coming to the United States of America … TODAY!

Meanwhile, the briefer “United States” or “U.S.” alone is just a spiritless, generic fabrication, useful for conciseness in news reports but otherwise meaningless. It reduces the country to its abstract political arrangement. It’s like a Brazilian saying, “Hello, I’m from the Federative Republic.” Of what? Where? The “America” grounds the “United States” to the specific, real-world example of these united states, here.

The more pressing question is this: If Americans are supposed to drop the “America” from the vernacular, what should Americans call themselves if not “Americans?” The solution that always seems to come up is “United Statesian.” Are you kidding me? “Statesian” sounds like parseltongue, raises haunting memories of my fourth-grade lisp, and transforms pointed film critiques on American culture into legislative dramas:

Statesian Graffiti
Statesian Psycho
Statesian History X

I’ll call myself “United Statesian” when my friend from the Republic of Colombia calls herself a “Republican,” to avoid confusion with Columbia, South Carolina. To all critics of “America” as the U.S.: I know the situation isn’t ideal. I know the Constitution should really read “United States of Some Parts of America Plus Hawaii,” but that’s not how it reads, and lecturing Americans about it on cruises isn’t just pointless but also unfair. Americans have been calling their country “America” for more than two centuries. They will and should continue. Deal with it.

Source: America the continent vs. America the country.
What's your sincere opinion about it?
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Old June 6th, 2014, 07:10 AM   #2

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Originally Posted by Henrique Aguiar View Post
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What's your sincere opinion about it?
Agree with the article completely.
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Old June 6th, 2014, 07:17 AM   #3

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If Colombians or Costa-Ricans want to call themselves American that's fine with me. They'll be the ones confusing everyone. Each times someones asks why they'll have to do this whole "America is more than just US" speech all over again.

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Old June 6th, 2014, 07:19 AM   #4

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I think people who have a problem with it are being pedantic and looking for reasons to criticize Americans. In my experience, most people around the world identify first with their country, not by their continent, so why people suddenly try to make it seem as though the word America or Americans is better suited to describe a continent or people from the continent rather than a country is beyond me. Last I knew, the continents of North and South America were plural: America is the country, Americas are the continents. And what else are we supposed to call ourselves besides Americans? United staters? United statians? Seriously? That sounds ridiculous. There is only one nation with the word America in it so why are we not allowed to identify ourselves by it? Around the world, people are entitled to identify themselves however they want and the rest of the world tiptoes around it, trying to be politically correct and make sure they are calling a group of people whatever they wish to be called - excepts Americans. When we call ourselves by our chosen name, it makes us ignorant and political correctness goes out the window.
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Old June 6th, 2014, 07:23 AM   #5

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I'm curious if they proudly announce they are Americans when visiting countries where US residents are extremely unpopular or only when it's safe to do so.
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Old June 6th, 2014, 07:25 AM   #6

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It's the United states of America. Therefore 'America' is clearly legitimate.

It's not Columbia of America is it?

Maybe they should call themselves Earthlings. They live there too. I agree with HC, it's pedantic, specious and political.
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Old June 6th, 2014, 07:29 AM   #7
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Having enountered this a few times, I think the source of the resentment is the distorted view of history that was distributed by Latin American educators for decades under their authoritarian regimes.* It's a lot like the resentful view of history distributed in areas that were under Soviet rule, and it will probably take several generations of political/economic normalcy for them to stop kvetching over things like this.

That said, if anyone wanted to rename North and South America after pre-Columbian cultures, animals, or some such, I'd be all for it.

*Note the mantra that "America is a continent," which indicates that the whole thing predates any knowledge of plate tectonics.
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Old June 6th, 2014, 07:31 AM   #8

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When you say United States, are you talking about America or Mexico?
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Old June 6th, 2014, 07:35 AM   #9
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Saying we are Americans without including Canada, central and south America is bad manners, because it is offensive. It would be a huge spiritual shift for us to stop doing that, because our national title does not leave us with an identifying name. How does one make a name for citizens of United States? Perhaps the best we can do is add "North" to American, but Canadians are also north Americans, and I don't know if they want to be counted as one of us?

You bring up a most interesting human phenomena, this idea that we have separate identities and a word can define the group we are correctly identified with. Like how about African Americans who have never been to Africa and would never fit in any of the African cultures? We have Latino Americans with south American heritage, but who were born in the US, and Latino Americans who may have born else where but grew up here and do not know any other culture. We also have Asian Americans. I don't think the Latino, nor Asian Americans, have insisted on being called Latino or Asian Americans, as some dark skinned people have insisted on being called African American.

I love DNA testing, because some dark skinned are shocked to know they are not of African descendants. They have grown up identifying with those who were once held as slaves and who still live with discrimination, and it is an identity crisis to discover they are not one of these people. Just as it is an identity crisis for some Latinos to discover they are "illegals" who must move out of the US.

In ancient times, being "Christian" gave people a shared identity, but this no longer has legal status. However, when Christians gained control it had essential legal status, as discrimination was against non Christians, and all Christians were included as children of God.
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Old June 6th, 2014, 07:37 AM   #10

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Also,isn't this more appropriate for The Lounge? What does it have to do with history?
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