The meaning of the word American
to the historic, geographic, and political context in which it is
used. It derives from America
term originally denoting all of the New
(also called "the Americas
this Pan-American sense, but its usage evolved over time, and due
to various historical reasons the word came to denote people or
things specifically from the United States of America.
In modern English "American" generally
refers to the United States, and in the U.S. itself this usage is
almost universal, with any other use of the term requiring
specification of the subject under discussion. However, this
ambiguity has been the source of controversy, particularly among
, who feel that using
the term solely for the United States misappropriates it.
The word can be used as both a noun
. In adjectival use, it is
generally understood to mean "of or relating to the United States";
for example, "Elvis Presley
American singer" or "the American president gave a speech today;"
in noun form, it generally means U.S. citizen or national
Names for U.S. citizens
The noun is rarely used in American
to refer to people not connected to the United States.
When used with a grammatical
the adjective American
can mean "of or
relating to the Americas," as in Latin
or Indigenous American
frequently, the adjective can take this meaning without a
qualifier, as in "American Spanish dialects and
pronunciation differ by country", or the name of the Organization of
A third use of the term pertains
specifically to the indigenous peoples of the
, for instance, "In the 16th century, many Americans
died from imported diseases during the Spanish conquest".
, and Italian
languages use cognates
of the word "American", in denoting "U.S.
citizen". In Spanish, americano
denotes geographic and
cultural origin in the New World; the adjective and noun, denoting
a U.S. national, estadounidense
(United States person),
derives from Estados Unidos de América
(United States of
America). Portuguese, has americano
, denoting a person or
thing from the Americas, and for a U.S. national and things
(United States person), from Estados
Unidos da América
(Yankee). In French, étasunien
, distinguishes U.S. things and
persons from the adjective américain
, which chiefly
denotes persons and things from the United States but may also
refer to the Americas
; likewise, the German usages
said cultural distinction, solely denoting U.S. things and
The Spanish words estadounidense
(United States person),
(North American), yanqui
are Mexican, Central American,
South American and European Spanish usages denoting U.S. things and
persons. In personal denotation, "gringo" means a
, in particular, and anglophones in general,
and, linguistically, any speech not Spanish, i.e. "She is speaking
gringo, not Spanish". Cognate usages may cause cultural friction
between U.S. nationals and Latin Americans who object to American
English's exclusionary denotations of American
History of the word
British Map of America in 1744.
The derivation of America
has several explanatory naming theories
. The most common is
deriving it from Americus Vespucius, the Latinised version
of Amerigo Vespucci's name, the
Italian merchant and cartographer who explored South America's east
coat and the Caribbean sea in the early 1500s.
Later, his published
letters were the basis of Waldseemüller's 1507 map
, which is
the first usage of America
. (See )
In 1886, Jules Marcou
renamed himself from Alberigo
) to Amerigo
Vespucci after meeting the
native inhabitants of the eponymous Amerrique
mountain ranges of Nicaragua that
connect North America and South America, an important geographic
feature of New World
maps and charts.
Moreover, there is the 1908 theory that America
from Richard Amerike
England, financier of John Cabot
expedition. Cabot is believed the first Western European on the
mainland. In the event, the adjective American
subsequently denotes the New World's peoples and things.
The 16th-century European usage of American
native inhabitants of the New World. The earliest recorded use of
this term in English is in Thomas
's 1568 translation of André Thévet
's book on France Antarctique
; Thévet himself
had referred to the natives as Ameriques
. In the following
century the term was extended to European settlers and their
descendants in the Americas. The earliest recorded use of this term
in English dates to 1648, in Thomas Gage
English-American: A New Survet of the West Indies
. In English,
"American" was used especially for people in the British America
, and came to be applied to
citizens of the United States when the country was formed. The
refers to "[the] unanimous Declaration of the
thirteen united States of America" adopted by the "Representatives
of the united States of America" on July 4, 1776. The official name
of the country was established on November 15, 1777, when the
adopted the Articles of Confederation
first of which says, "The Stile of this Confederacy shall be 'The
United States of America' ". The confederation articles further
state: "In Witness whereof we have hereunto set our hands in
Congress. Done at Philadelphia in the State of Pennsylvania the
ninth day of July in the Year of our Lord One Thousand Seven
Hundred and Seventy-Eight, and in the Third Year of the
independence of America." Common short forms and abbreviations are
the United States
, the U.S.
, the U.S.A.
. Colloquial versions are the U.S. of
and the States
. The term Columbia
(from the Columbus surname),
was a popular name for the U.S. and for the entire geographic
Americas; its usage is restricted to the District of Columbia name.
Moreover, the womanly personification of Columbia appears in some
official documents, including editions of the U.S. dollar.
In the Federalist Papers
, Alexander Hamilton
and James Madison
different meanings, political and geographic; "the American
republic" in Federalist Paper 51 and in Federalist Paper 70, and,
in Federalist Paper 24, Hamilton's American
the lands beyond the U.S.'s political borders:
United States President George
's farewell in 1796 says: "The name of American,
which belongs to you in your national capacity, must always exalt
the just pride of patriotism more than any appellation."
Originally, the name "the United States" was plural—"the United
States are"—a usage found in the U.S. Constitution's Thirteenth
(1865), but its current common usage is singular—"the
United States is". The plural is set in the idiom "these United
Before the Constitutional Convention, several country names were
proffered, the most popular being "Columbia
". The problems of "the United
States of America" as a name (long, awkward, imprecise) were
discussed; the Constitution ignores the matter, using "the United
States of America" and "the United States". The name "Colombia"
(derived from Christopher Columbus; Sp: Cristóbal Colón
It: Cristoforo Colombo
), was proposed by the revolutionary
Francisco de Miranda
the New World—especially Spain's and Portugal's American
territories and colonies; it was used in the country names Republic of Columbia
and the United States of Colombia
official U.S. documents betray inconsistent usage; the 1778
Treaty of Alliance with
France uses the "the United States of North America" in
the first sentence, then uses "the said United States" afterwards;
"the United States of America" and "the United States of North
America" derive from "the United Colonies of America" and "the
United Colonies of North America".
The Treaty of Peace and
Amity of September 5, 1795 between the United States and the
contains the usages
"the United States of North America", "citizens of the United
States", and "American Citizens".
Semantic divergence among Anglophones did not affect the Spanish
colonies. In 1801, the document titled Letter to
American Spaniards—published in French (1799), in Spanish
(1801), and in English (1808—might have influenced Venezuela's Act of Independence
and its 1811 constitution.
The Latter-day Saints
' Articles of Faith
refer to the American
continent as where they are to build Zion.. The Old Catholic Encyclopedia
is as "the Western
or the New World". It discusses American republics,
ranging from the U.S. to the "the republic of Mexico, the Central
American republics of Guatemala, Honduras, San Salvador, Nicaragua,
Costa Rica, Leon, and Panama; the Antillian republics of Haiti,
Santo Domingo, and Cuba, and the South American republics of
Venezuela, Colombia, Brazil, Ecuador, Peru, Bolivia, Paraguay, the
Argentine, and Chile"..
Usage at the United Nations
Use of the term American
for U.S. nationals is common in
. The Secretary General
refers to people from the United States as Americans, as has the UN
High Commissioner for Refugees. The UN has referred to financial
markets in the United States as "American financial markets."
American Samoa is a recognized territorial name at the United
Political and cultural views
The use of American
as a national demonym
for U.S. nationals is challenged, primarily
by Latin Americans. The Luxury Link travel guide advises U.S.
nationals in Mexico to not refer to themselves as Americans,
because Mexicans consider themselves Americans. The Getting Through
Customs website advises business travellers not to use "in America"
as a U.S. reference when conducting business in Brazil.
Diccionario de la Lengua Española
(Dictionary of the
Spanish Language) published by the Real Academia Española
Spanish Academy), defines estadounidense
Statesman) as "someone or something from or relating to the United
States", the common Spanish usage for U.S. people and things.
People originating from, or who have lived in, the Western
Hemisphere might be called americanos
Moreover, the Royal Spanish Academy advises against using
exclusively for U.S. nationals:
Confederation in 1867, the
word "Canadian" referred only to residents of the colony of Canada,
which consisted of the territory of modern Quebec and Ontario.
did not apply to residents of the colonies of New Brunswick, Nova
Scotia, Prince Edward Island or Newfoundland.
Collectively, the British colonies were
known as British North
, and their residents referred to themselves as "British
Americans." Since the War of 1812, the term "American" acquired a
pejorative context within Canada. Even since the BNA
Act of 1867, which defines the word Canada in its
modern context, the pejorative context of the term "American"
Modern Canadians typically refer to people from the United States
as "Americans", though they seldom refer to the United States as
"America", using the terms "the United States", "the U.S.", or
(informally) "the States" instead. Canadians rarely apply the term
"American" to themselves – some Canadians resent being referred to
as Americans because of mistaken assumptions that they are U.S.
citizens or an inability, particularly of people overseas, to
distinguish Canadian English
American English accents
. Some Canadians have protested
the use of American
as a national demonym. People of U.S.
ethnic origin in Canada are categorized as "American (U.S.)" by
for purposes of
Portugal and Brazil
Generally, Americano denotes "U.S.
citizen" in Portugal.
Usage of americano
denote people and things of the U.S. is discouraged by the Academia
das Ciências de Lisboa (Lisbon Academy of Sciences), because the
specific word estado-unidense
) clearly denotes a "United Statesman" and a
In Brazil, the term americano
(American) is used to
address both that which pertains to the American continent and, in
current speech, that which pertains to the U.S.A. (the particular
meaning is deduced from context). Alternatively the term
"norte-americano" (North American) is also used in more informal
contexts while "estadunidense" (united satesman) is the preferred
form in academia. The term "América" (America) on the other hand is
used almost exclusevily for the continent as the U.S.A. are called
"Estados Unidos" (United States) or "Estados Unidos da América"
(United States of America).
"United States or American" ancestry
by county, per 2000 U.S.
(Dark colors represent higher relative density)
The United States Census
reports 7.3 percent of U.S. residents to be of "United
States or American" ancestry based on responses to the 2000 Census
questionnaire (1 in 6 sample). Discrete responses of United
or an ambiguous response or a
state-name response (excluding Hawaii) were aggregated as "United
States or American". Distinct racial and ethnic groups such as
", "Mexican American
", and "Hawaiian
" were coded separately.
"American" appears in the name of the U.S. territory of American Samoa.
American Samoa began using the word
in its title when it became a U.S.
American in other contexts
in the Associated
(1994) is defined as: "An acceptable
description for a resident of the United States. It also may be
applied to any resident or citizen of nations in North or South
America". Elsewhere, the AP Stylebook
"United States" must "be spelled out when used as a noun. Use U.S.
(no space) only as an adjective".
York Times Manual of Style and Usage
entry reads: the "terms America
refer not only to the
United States, but to all of North America and South America. They
may be used in any of their senses, including references to just
the United States, if the context is clear. The countries of the
Western Hemisphere are collectively the Americas
Pope and Vatican media releases frequently use America to
refer to the United States, and American to denote
something or someone from the United States.
American in international law
At least one international law uses "U.S. citizen" in defining a
citizen of the United States rather than American citizen
an excerpt from the North American Free Trade
Many other international treaties use the term American
and American citizen
. The Thailand Treaty of Amity protects Americans and American
companies. The Treaty between the United States and the
Dey of the Regency of Algiers on March 7, 1796 protected American
citizens. The Louisiana Purchase Treaty between
France and United States referred to American
citizens. The 1858 Treaty of
Amity and Commerce between the United States and Japan protected
American citizens and also used the term
American. The Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo
between Mexico and the U.S.
uses the term American Government to refer to the United
States, and American tribunals to refer to U.S.
The 1825 treaty between the United States and the
tribe refers to American
. The Treaty of
ending the Spanish-American War
, known as
Guerra Hispano Americana
in Spanish, uses the word
in reference to United States troops.
American in U.S. commercial regulation
Products that are labelled, advertised, and marketed in the U.S. as
" must be "all or
virtually all made in the U.S." The Federal Trade Commission, to
prevent deception of customers and unfair competition, considers an
unqualified claim of "American Made" to expressly claim exclusive
manufacture in the U.S. "The FTC Act
the Commission the power to bring law enforcement actions against
false or misleading claims that a product is of U.S. origin."
US national in other languages
, and Russian
speakers may use the term
to refer to either inhabitants of the Americas or
to US nationals. They generally have other terms specific to US
nationals, such as German US-Amerikaner,
Japanese 米国人 beikokujin,
but these may be less common than the term
Adjectives derived from "United States" (such as
are awkward in English, but similar
constructions exist in Spanish (estadounidense
), Portuguese (estado-unidense
) and Finnish
: from Yhdysvallat
States), and also in French (états-unien
), and Italian
, at least one reference
are preferred to americano
nationals; the latter tends to refer to any resident of the
Americas and not necessarily from the United States. In Portuguese,
(or estadunidense) is the recommended form
by language regulators but today it is less frequently used than
also may employ the term norteamericano
), which conflates the United States and Canada and
generally excludes Mexico.
With the 1994 passage of the North American Free Trade
, the following words were used to label the
United States Section
of that organization: in French,
; in Spanish, estadounidense
English the adjective used to indicate relation to the United
States is U.S.
The word Gringo
is widely used in parts of
in reference to U.S.
residents, often in a pejorative way but not necessarily.
) is also
very common in some regions, but it is usually pejorative.
Throughout Latin America the word Gringo
is also used for
any foreigner from the United States, Canada, or Europe, however
the true sense of the word is any foreigner.
In other languages, however, there is no possibility for confusion.
example, is derived from a word for the United States,
is an abbreviation for
"America" and guó
is "country". The
name for the continent of America is měizhōu,
"continent". Thus a
zhōurén is an American in the generic
sense, and a měi
guórén is an American in
the US sense. Similar words are found in
Korean and Vietnamese. In Swahili, the more naturalized word Marekani
means specifically the United States, and Wamarekani
are US nationals, whereas the international form Amerika
refers to the continent, and Waamerika are the
inhabitants thereof. Likewise, the
Esperanto word Ameriko refers
only to the continent. For the country
there is the term Usono, cognate with the English
word Usonia later popularized by
Frank Lloyd Wright. Thus a citizen of the
United States is an usonano, whereas an amerikano
is an inhabitant of the Americas.
Alternative adjectives for U.S. citizens
There are a number of alternatives to the demonym
"American" (a citizen of the United States)
that do not simultaneously mean any inhabitant of the Americas. One
uncommon alternative is "Usonian
usually describes a certain style of residential architecture
designed by Frank Lloyd Wright
. Over the years, many
other alternatives have also surfaced, but most have long fallen
into disuse and obscurity. Merriam-Webster's Dictionary of English
says, "The list contains (in approximate historical
order from 1789 to 1939) such terms as Columbian, Columbard,
Fredonian, Frede, Unisian, United Statesian, Colonican, Appalacian,
Usian, Washingtonian, Usonian, Uessian, U-S-ian, Uesican, United
Stater." Nevertheless, no alternative to "American" is
Columbia has in the past been proposed as an
alternative name for the United States, and some institutions still
use the term in this sense, including the District of
Columbia, and Columbia
University among others. It referred to the United States in the
19th Century, and when the Republic of Colombia formed, that country appropriated the name, after
which Columbia faded as a term for the United States.
- Wilson, Kenneth G. (1993). The Columbia Guide to Standard
American English New York: Columbia University Press, pp.
27–28. ISBN 0231069898.
- Walter S. Avis, Patrick D. Drysdale, Robert J. Gregg, Victoria
E. Eeufeldt, Mattheew H. Scargill (1983). Gage Canadian
Dictionary. Toronto: Gage Publishing Limited, p. 37. ISBN
- "American". From the Oxford English Dictionary.
Retrieved November 27, 2008.
- "Washington's Farewell Address 1796". From The
Avalon Project. Retrieved November 10, 2008.
- Articles of Faith 1
- Catholic Encyclopedia: America
- "American Samoa". United Nations Department of
Economic and Social Affairs, Population Division. Retrieved August
- Real Academia Española
- Fee, Margery and McAlpine, J. 1997. Oxford Guide to
Canadian English Usage. (ISBN 0-19-541619-8) Toronto: Oxford
University Press; p. 36.
- United States - QT-P13. Ancestry: 2000
- Complying with the Made In the USA Standard
- Japanese: アメリカ人 amerika-jin
- Standard Mandarin pronunciation; written 美國人 (traditional), 美国人
- 미국(인) Migug(in) vs. 아메리카(인) Amerika(in)
- (người) Hoa Kỳ 花旗 vs. (người) Châu Mỹ 洲美; the
term for the US is taken from its flag.
- Japanese has such terms as well, 米国(人) beikoku(jin)
vs. 米洲人 beishū(jin), but they are found more in newspaper
headlines than in speech, where amerikajin
- Merriam-Webster's Dictionary of English Usage, p. 88.
- Chapter 8: “...So near the United States”.