I’ve come across this debate dozens of times in my day-to-day life, and I did once again the other evening as I was out with my friends. I have a very international group of friends, and it is always interesting to argue with them; I am always anticipating some kind of new angle they’d offer up that I hadn’t considered.
However, this time, I surprised myself and my friends by spewing forth some soliloquy without even taking any proper time to ponder the question again; words came out of my mouth without hesitation and one would think that I had been waiting all my life for this one moment, to fight this one battle. My friend said something about Canadians being Americans, as well, and after I clarified that we were going in that direction, I just went off with a rant, one I had no idea I had in me.
I myself am a United States citizen, but my point of view on this article hopefully reflects no bias regarding that fact. For the record, I want to point out that, even though I am a citizen of the United States, I often find myself being the most critical of my own country – my friends and conversation partners while abroad are certain to agree; I am usually the most progressive, rainbow-slinging in just about any group I happen to be in.
So, is the fact that U.S. citizens call themselves “Americans” a case of ignorance, simple-mindedness, a narrow worldview, or bigotry? I don’t think so at all, and below I’ll explain why. We “Americans” have many faults, but I’d like to explain why this one is not one of them.
America Refers to the Continent(s) or the U.S.A.? A Bit of History to Get Us Started….
Originally, yes, the term America was used to denote anything from the Americas, which consists of North America and South America. In the 1500’s the term American was used to represent the native inhabitants of the lands of the New World. However, in the English language, American came to refer specifically to the peoples of British America, and later narrowed down more to include just the newly-formed country of the United States of America – and note that this happened in the late 1700’s. The British were the first ones to call citizens of the USA “Americans.”
Since most of the world agrees on a seven-continent view of the world, it is important to remember that we also distinguish a person from South America as South American and a person from North America as North American, more commonly than simply American.
Point #1: The Dictionary Definition
Oxford English – (#1) of, relating to, or characteristic of the United States or its inhabitants.
Merriam-Webster – (#3) a citizen of the United States.
Collins Dictionary – (#2) of, in, or characteristic of the U.S. or its people or culture.
Most dictionaries, international organizations, and style books have a doubly-accepted definition for the moniker of American – both as a citizen of the United States of America as well as a person from North or South America.
Point #2: Mexico
What does Mexico have to do with this argument? Well, many people don’t realize this, but Mexico’s official name is Estados Unidos Mexicanos, which translates to United States of Mexico or the United Mexican States. This invalidates one of the most common alternate suggestions for demonyms of US citizens, United Statian, since Mexico is also a country of many states, united. The term Mexico doesn’t step on any toes, so there is no argument for that country/demonym pair as there is with the USA.
Point #3: Korea
This point is not such a solid one, but I’d like to point out that North Korean and South Korean citizens prefer to be considered singularly as “Koreans,” since they share their same background, language, and much history, among other things, though they each still fail to officially recognize the existence of the other nationality.