September 25, 2015

America and Americans

I got into an exchange on Facebook the other day based on a tweet that someone had copied to Facebook. The tweet began with
Learn geography [sic] people:
The tweet went on to complain that the Pope was not visiting America for the first time, since, as an Argentinian, he has been in America for most of his life. The poster suggested that reporters should be speaking of the Pope’s first visit to “the United States.”
There is, of course, a certain logic to this argument, as well as a suggestion of arrogance on the part of reporters. My initial response was simply that the use of “America” to refer to the U.S. is well established. If someone in Europe announces a trip to America, we don’t expect them to turn up in Mexico City or Quito. “America,” when not referring to the U.S., is usually accompanied by clarifying words: “North America,” “Central America,” “South America,” or “the Americans.”

Admittedly, it would have been correct to say that the Pope was visiting the United States for the first time, but the complaint that using the term “America” somehow demeans the rest of the Western Hemisphere is patently ridiculous. Even the Pope ended his speech to the Congress with “God Bless America.” Clearly, he was referring to the U.S.

What are the citizens of the United States to be called? Surely not “United Statesians.” The name of the country is United States of America, and I have never heard citizens called anything but “Americans.” What other term could we derive from the name of the country?

Despite the fact that the usage may seem to the ultra-sensitive to be unfair to other residents of the hemisphere, what became the United States began as English colonies. Going to America in, say, the seventeenth century, meant going to those colonies, not to Central or South America. Residents of the colonies were generally called colonists, but that had to change after 1776. “Americans” became the obvious choice.

When I call myself an American or say I am from America, everyone knows I’m not from Canada or Chile, and no one should take offense at my usage. These arguments will not convince the culture police who are always looking for conventions at which they can take offense. Normal people, however, should go on using “America” and “American” without guilt.


  1. I sometimes hear Canadians using, "North America" to sort of stake their claim.

    I think grammar cops, political correctness cops, and the like are a plague on us. We do not need, geography cops

  2. For purely practical terms and for ease of usage, I have found that the principal usages are, from north to south: Canadians, Americans, Central Americans and South Americans. It is good enough-the enemy of the good is the perfect.


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