January 27, 2008

Playing the American Name Game
Lima, Peru

I'm getting tired of playing the name game with the word "America" or "American", and using it only to reference the broad slice of the world considered the Americas. I often make a conscious effort to use other descriptors for people from the U.S., but the practice is starting to wear on me—and my patience thinning for the "but we're all actually Americans, you know" comments that inevitably come out of Central and South America.

People of Latin America, and all those other Americas: It's time to get over it. The word American is synonymous with the populous of the United States of America. The country's name is long, and just so happens to contain the word 'America' at the end—and guess what: It's been shortened from "United States of American" to just "American". Deal with it.

People know and understand this on a global level. When I say "American" on the other side of the globe, people think USA.

Here's an example of a typical conversation in SE Asia:

Local: "Where are you from?"
Me: "The United States."
Local: (pause) "Where?"
Me: "The USA."
Local: (pausing… still not understanding)
Me: (hesitating) "…America."
Local: "Oh! America! You're American…"

No one ever associates a citizen of Venezuela, or any other Latin American country, with the word "American". It doesn't happen. Why? Because the phrases "Central America", "South America", and "Latin America" aren't globally recognizable—especially to those who haven't attended solid world geography courses.

So when people leave comments on this site saying, "…we are all "Americans"—South Americans are Americans as much as North Americans are", or obsessively try to correct others on the use of the word "American", I find myself rolling my eyes.

I'm tired of playing this game. I'm moving on—so should you.

Comments:

Anonymous

January 27th, 2008

That shit annoys me too. Thank you for saying this publicly; someone had to.

- Girth

Anonymous

January 27th, 2008

Maybe they don't realize English doesn't have the equivalent of estado unidense - "United Statesian"

Jeff

January 27th, 2008

Yeah, it's a particularly annoying that this conversation always comes up. In India I had almost the exact same conversation you had in SE Asia.

An Argentine friend of mine provided me with an explanation to use that has worked well when I encounter a native speaker of Spanish urging me to use the word America differently than I normally do: "In the English language, America means the U.S. In the Spanish language, America has a different meaning, referring to the broader Americas. So, when we speak in English then we will use the English language meaning of the word. When we speak in Spanish, we will use the Spanish language meaning of the word."

Peru

Craig | travelvice.com

January 27th, 2008

I've jumped around Latin America for well over a year, and have yet to hear estadounidensegringo (which I don't find insulting) and americano, yes, plenty, estadounidense — not once (although there appears to be reference to its use on the Internet). Interesting.

MAS

January 27th, 2008

I read once that most foreigners know California and New York. Therefore, I often answer - California.

Peru

Craig | travelvice.com

January 27th, 2008

…and Florida.

Anonymous

January 29th, 2008

Why don't you just call yourself a yankee or a seppo, that should solve most problems.

Peru

Craig | travelvice.com

January 29th, 2008

Ah — almost forgot about "seppo" (down under lingo for Americans).

Actually, I'm often known to say "I'm a Yank" to Aussies, Kiwis, and Brits.

Anonymous

January 30th, 2008

The next time someone from Argentina suggests you call yourself estadounidense, reply
"United States of what? America or Mexico?" Because the official name of Mexico is Estados Unidos Mexicanos. Also, no one in Spain uses the term estadounidense rather than americano to mean USA, and Spain is the ultimate authority for the Spanish language.

The United Kingdom

rob

November 15th, 2011

yeah, yankee is used in europe to describe people from the states but dont u.s citizens still think of it as a reference to new england?

The United States

Craig | travelvice.com

November 15th, 2011

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