If this isn’t your first visit to the site, you may have noticed my use of “USAmerica.” It’s probably most noticeable in posts that are specifically about the nation’s understanding of war and of liberty and justice.
So far, I’ve been hoping that it makes a kind of intuitive sense and that you’ve understood my meaning.
Now as we’re in the wake of Independence Day and reflecting on all things USAmerican, I thought it might be time to explain why I use “USAmerica.”
The short answer:
America is a continent. Or two continents, if you split North and South. American refers to “of or relating to the Americas or its peoples.”
USAmerica is a country. USAmerican refers to “of or relating to the United States of America or its people.”
The longer answer:
I blame the founders for lack of creativity.
Other countries have names for their place, from which they derive the adjective and the noun for the people of that place. They have separate names for their political allegiances.
Easy examples: Scotland and England. Names of the land. Land is literally right there in the word.
From the names of their country, they get the adjective: Scottish, English. Which also functions as the noun for people from those lands.
When they “unite” (along with Wales and Northern Ireland), they comprise the United Kingdom.
But our country doesn’t have a proper name. We have a political description.
Instead of a “land,” we have describe our political situation: states, which are “of [the continent of] America” that are united. Which presents us with the linguistic challenge of the adjective form of our nation.
Our solution has been the inaccurate and colonizing use of american to describe things of or related to the United States of America.
I say “colonizing” because such an adjective says that these entire continents are reducible to (or, more accurately, overrun by) one country. When we talk about “American” issues or culture pieces, I cringe. I doubt that countries from Canada to Chile want to share the blame for our contributions to the world.
Put another way: The Zika virus is an american problem. The Kardashians are an USAmerican problem.
I think I first became aware of our linguistic issues when I learned, in my Spanish studies, to refer to my nationality as estadounidense.
And I thought: Oh! If our country has something resembling a name in the description of “United States of America,” it’s the “United States” part. Most any country in this hemisphere could add on “of America” to their name.
I was once traveling abroad when someone asked, in English, my nationality and I said, unthinkingly, “I’m American.” To which an Argentinian nearby replied, “So am I. Can you be more specific?” And then broke and smile as he said, “I know what you mean.”
But even his knowing was an embarrassment — it would only be a unitedstatesian who would claim the continent as their nation.
I care about words. It’s important for the word to match what is conveyed.
(Because otherwise, cat bonkers slam ditch.)
With estadounidense, Spanish afforded me a vocabulary for the failings of our founding fathers. In English, I’m making do. To that end, unitedstatesian feels a bit much, even to me.
But USAmerican is hopefully familiar enough to be understood while also adding precision of my intention — and a recognition that our continent is larger and more diverse than our country.
We just celebrated Independence Day. Let’s recognize that there are 35 independent nations in the Americas, and reflect it in our language choices.
In the comments…
Do you differentiate between country and continent?
If so, what language do you use to do so?
If not, what informs your choice?
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