General Question

Pied_Pfeffer's avatar

Why are US citizens referred to as Americans?

Asked by Pied_Pfeffer (28141points) July 14th, 2010

If the USA is a country in North America, why are we referred to by most people around the world as Americans?

For our Canadian and Mexican neighbors, and even our friends in South America, do you ever find fault in this, or do you use the term as well?

Please…only informational responses.

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39 Answers

ipso's avatar

“American” = “United States” in every way. North/South America are just that. (e.g. What are Canadians then, “Canadian Americans”?)

My question is why are so many people confused about this? It seems to me that the rest of the world has this one figured out cold. Only Americans who have not traveled seem to have a hang-up with it – as if it was like “World Series”, which is incorrect.

Seaofclouds's avatar

It just depends on if you are referring to a person’s country of origin or the continent they live on. People tend to do both.

I think generally we (as Americans) are “named” for the country we live in, not the continent we live on. Canadians are Canadians because they live in Canada. Americans are Americans because we live in the United States of America. .

When we “name” people for the continent they live on, then Americans and Canadians would be North Americans.

Sarcasm's avatar

Because they live in the United States of America.
Just like you call the people from PRC “Chinese”. Or people from ROK “Korean”. People from UAE are Emeriti. Citizens of ROI are Irish.

It’s just how things make sense.

Pied_Pfeffer's avatar

@Sarcasm Thank you. That makes a lot of sense.

Zyx's avatar

actually if anything doesn’t make sense it’s the current formation of the US, so it’s a lot easier to name people based on land than on politics.
we call you americans because we don’t want to get into what you’ve fucked up over there.
I’m just pissed we’re suddenly “europeans” as well.

Pied_Pfeffer's avatar

@ipso I wouldn’t call it a hangup; some of us just want to be politically correct. I was just wondering if this ever bothered people who lived in other countries in NA or SA.

And I have been to Canada and Mexico and several countries in Europe.

jrpowell's avatar

Because they are wrong and (most) people from the United States are convinced they are the best. It isn’t hard to call it the United States or the USA. I’m always drunk and I manage. neckbeards

ipso's avatar

@Pied_Pfeffer Well… therein lines many people’s angst. I apologize for being sharp, but why are Liberal Americans so worried about being PC (about the name of their country no less) when no one else IN THE WORLD is? (If you’re well traveled, this only compounds the issue.)

If there is a better example of being ridiculously overly PC in America, I don’t know what it is.

It seems to me like some kind of self-hatred or something. Like little black girls thinking black Barbie Dolls are bad or something. Some kind of indoctrination. I just don’t understand it, so I’m confused, and kind of lashing out for a “why?”

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lilikoi's avatar

United States of America…. South America is not a country.

cookieman's avatar

Because “United Statesians” doesn’t exactly roll off the tongue.

DocteurAville's avatar

For me its obvious: United States of….

cazzie's avatar

wow… What’s there to be pc about? It’s Canadians, Americans, Mexicans…etc….
@Sarcasm had in nailed in the third post. The old word for the region was Columbia, but Colombian’s (with o) would find it all very confusing.

dynamicduo's avatar

As a Canadian, I do not want to be associated with Americans (meaning United States of America citizens). The chances of this are higher with us than with Mexicans because of Canada and America’s similarities both physically and culturally. It is much more beneficial to me, while traveling, to make it clear that I am a Canadian and not an American. So no, I do not take offense whatsoever to that use.

Speaking to your greater point, I’m not sure of many countries where their citizens are referred to by the continent they live on, other than Australia. So South Americans are more commonly referred to as Brazilians, Argentinians, etc. Not being from there myself, I would imagine that like me and Canada I would prefer to be grouped with my country of loyalty rather than my continent.

Ron_C's avatar

The question was mostly answered. On papers that require citizenship or country of birth we (I) write U.S.A., when we speak we abbreviate it as American. Sometimes North American, Canadians have a confederation so I guess you could call them Confederates but since their country is called Canada, they call themselves Canadian or North American if they talk about their region on the continent.

Mexico has a federal system, so they call themselves Mexican but not South American because that would cause too much confusion because there is a continent called South American. The people of the various countries are usually referred to and identified by their country’s name, Brazilian for example.

The only time we seem hear the term South American seems to be when we talk about a South American Dictator or when our government is preparing to screw the whole continent because many “Americans” aren’t too good at geography.

cockswain's avatar

Could be as simple as it would be clumsy to say “United Statesians.”

JLeslie's avatar

You may be interested in a question I asked a very long time ago basically asking the same thing. Although I am interested to see what new answers you get.

My sister-in-law is Mexican, and her husband’s Italian family calls her American. Probably the same way we use European.

bob_'s avatar

Basically, because you guys co-opted the term. Yes, it is the United States of America, but, to follow @Sarcasm‘s example, there’s no continent called China, so there’s no confusion in calling the folks from the PRC Chinese. In this case there’s a continent called the Americas. How are people from there supposed to be called? According to Wikipedia, the demonym is American. Ever heard of OAS? You guys should have gotten yourselves another demonym, IMHO.

Now, as to how it is said in Mexico, the country is always referred to as “Estados Unidos” (United States). “América” always refers to the Americas. Funnily enough, “americano” (American) and even “norteamericano” (North American) are mostly used to refer to people (or things) from the US. The Spanish Real Academia acknowledges this. The correct term is estadounidense (United Statesian), which while not altogether rare, is not widely used. Then there’s always “gringo”, which, while colloquial, is not, as some might think, pejorative.

Personally, I don’t worry too much about it.

@Ron_C Mexico is not in South America. Ever heard of NAFTA?

JLeslie's avatar

@lilikoi Do you ever use the term European? There are other countries on the continent of America. It is not unreasonable that they may be referred to as Americans, although since it is customary to refer to people from the USA as Americans, it isn’t done generally to avoid confusion.

@ipso I don’t see it as being PC. What is wrong with wondering if other people who live on the continent think it is odd or offensive. It’s just a question. Why are you so defensive?

Ron_C's avatar

@bob_ I did not imply that Mexico is in South America. Only that it is in south, North America and they call themselves Mexican.

cazzie's avatar

I hear people say ‘European’ on this board all the time. I call some attitudes from the US ‘Columbosentric’ when they think that the world starts and ends with the USA. But Americans are Americans because they are from the United States OF America. No co-opting of terms there.

DominicX's avatar

Because “America” is the only part of the name of our country that stands out. “United Statesian” sounds stupid and is a mouthful. “America” is the distinguishing factor in the name of our country. The official name for Mexico is actually the United Mexican States. A lot of countries have formal names like that, but they still have an informal colloquial name. Ours is “America”. It’s just an unfortunate bit of history that the only part our country’s name that stands out happens to be the name of the continent.

I’m sure there are some people who use that term because they think Americans rule the world, but I think most people do it for the reasons that I just stated (and @Sarcasm just stated—GA).

ipso's avatar

@JLeslie – the OP introduced the notion that the original question was driven by the desire to be “Politically Correct”. Nothing is wrong with the question. Indeed, I ticked it with a GQ – because it might help Americans learn their own names better.

When I look at the CIA fact book I see this:

conventional long form: United States of America
conventional short form: United States
abbreviation: US or USA

No “America”. So it seems the CIA too is PC, as well as punctuation challenged. But wait! It is OK to skip the punctuation per here. And to be even more pedantic, it looks like USA is not an “acronym”. An acronym is a word you pronounce, like AIDS. USA is an “initialism”.

Also – “The Americas” is the proper and exacting way to say “North and South America” – not “America”.

This article points out: “…the cartographer Martin Waldseemueller in 1507 named the New World (actually, just South America) America…”

So.. only what is now South America was originally called “America” on the map. At some point Europeans started categorically using “America” for what is now the Eastern Seaboard (whereas The Americas became “The New World” – Novus Mundus), but when “America” was incorporated into the name of the new country USA, at that point the name America was reserved, and no other country used it in subsequent namings.

JLeslie's avatar

@ipso I agree it is about common usage, I think that is what you are saying. That it is understood that America means United States of America. Now, in Spanish, in Latin America, America is referred to as Los Estatados Unidos. The United States. I rarely here a Latin America call America, America, when speaking in Spanish. Most Europeans I know use the term “The States” to refer to America. Even our military uses “stateside.” You just seem to be upset if someone took the name America away from us. Maybe I am misinterpreting? If calling us Americans caused confusion, or really came of as conceded, I would be fine not using the term. But, it doesn’t seem to be a problem, so all is well.

It is not about PC for me personally. I use Americas to describe the continent as well, not sure if I wrote something above that left of the s? I can’t tell you how many times I have to explain to people that yes my husband is Mexican, but our last name is Sephardic because his paternal grandparents immigrated to Mexico from Israel. When they look at me like I have six heads. I explain that people emigrated to all of the Americas. So I get it, believe me.

The OP was just asking, I don’t assume any PC thing. You seem quick to jum on liberals. Look, I ask black people, if for some reason it comes up in conversation if they prefer black or African American. I am asking what they prefer while talking to them, even though I guess the PC thing right now is African American. That is how I perceived the OP’s question, she wants to know how the individuals from the other countries feel about it, if we are being insensitive possibly.

Pied_Pfeffer's avatar

@ipso and @JLeslie Thank-you for the insights you have shared. Since they were my questions, here is an update.

1.) If the USA is a country in North America, why are we referred to by most people around the world as Americans? Plenty of helpful info. has been posted here, and I appreciate everyone’s contributions.

2.) For our Canadian and Mexican neighbors, and even our friends in South America, do you ever find fault in this, or do you use the term as well? Yes, I know the term “American” is used all over the world. I use it myself and seriously doubt it will change. I was just curious how the people from other countries in North and South America felt about it and if they refer to US citizens as Americans. @dynamicduo seems to be the only one who has responded to this point and is qualified. (Thank you, by the way.)

P.S. to @lilikoi If your response about South America being a continent and not a country; yes, I’m aware of that. It wasn’t referred to that way in the OP on the assumption that anyone reading it would know the difference. I suppose that since some people think Africa is a country and not a continent, it was a bad assumption on my part.

JLeslie's avatar

@Pied_Pfeffer to your second point, you may have missed that I wrote that Spanish speaking people refer to America as Los Estatodos Unidos. My husband is Mexican and if you gave him the sentence I live in America to translate into Spanish, it would be vivo en los Estados Unidos he would never say vivo en America. To me that means our neighbors to south do not use the term. Or, would you not count it because it is not in English?

Pied_Pfeffer's avatar

Thanks @JLeslie Yes, I did see it and took to be a response to Q1 and not Q2. I didn’t realize that your husband is Mexican…that gives it validity. Please accept my apology.

JLeslie's avatar

@Pied_Pfeffer No apology necessary. I was not stating it again because I felt slighted. Only that you seemed to be interested in the information and might have missed it. Or, possibly I had not written it clearly.

mattbrowne's avatar

Usicans sounds a bit odd.

cazzie's avatar

I kind of like USAsians…. or perhaps… Unitiates. or…... State-esian. Gosh…. I’m sure there are options. Like Danes are to Denmark, perhaps US residents could be Uses. (please stop me.. it’s Friday and I’ve had a wine.)

mattbrowne's avatar

Many people on Earth are State-esians. Other countries got states too ;-)

I hope it was good wine… Usanian wine perhaps?

cazzie's avatar

Antipodean, actually! but thanks for asking!! Maybe we could make a regular game of it…. guess what wine Cazzie is drinking….. EEEERRRR… will be the sound it makes when you are wrong! Ding! will be the sound when you are right!

WhYBiRd's avatar

Because United states of Americans is too long as is the Unite-statians which sounds like a work union member for mathmatians and Americalian could be confused with an Australian.
Basically people are lazy.

Pied_Pfeffer's avatar

@WhYBiRd Welcome to Fluther!

I don’t think it is laziness. It’s not any harder to say, “I’m from the US” than it is to say, “I’m an American”. In fact, it’s a step away from being judged on the foundation of a country’s stereotype.

Nullo's avatar

Because “The United States of America” is a mouthful.

Ron_C's avatar

When I’m out of the country and want to refer to my country I just call it the “U S”. Of course when Bush was in power, I told everybody that I was Canadian and keep a cover over my passport.

It is not good being an American overseas. This country has screwed over more countries than it helped.

Nullo's avatar

@Ron_C And yet while I was in Italy – 2000–03 – the people who found out that I was an American would very frequently ask me why I had come to Italy, of all places, when the country of my birth was so awesome.

Ron_C's avatar

@Nullo I find a few places, usually countries we fought for or against in WWII still like some U.S. citizens. It was very embarrassing hearing about the Bush expansion of stupidity and war.

Strauss's avatar

I have a friend here in the US who’s originally from Brazil (or Brasil), and he usually refers to this country as US or “the States”. Occasionally, especially when commenting on something unique to the US culture, he will say something like “That’s America!”

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