Tuesday, July 3, 2012


I find myself saying, "I"m from the US," instead of, as I'd usually say, "I'm from America." Not sure why. But in reading student history/poli-sci papers, I find that we tend to instinctively use one term or another, depending on the circumstances. What do you think is the distinction?
When would you use "US" or "The United States" and when "America"?



Unknown said...

Living abroad, it's better to say US, especially since America refers to both North and South America. I've run into some Canadians who said "I'm from North America, but I don't want to be called American" and others who say "I'm American too. I'm just Canadian as well."

My cousin married a girl from Mexico. She is also American.

I switched over to saying US when I moved to Japan, because though most people imagine the US when one says "America", it's doing non-US-Americans a disservice. As in the Canadian example above, some of them hear "American" as an insult. Others hate the assumption that the term excludes them.

U.S. is accurate if you're in the United States. I generally refer to myself as an "American", but with the understanding that, while the assumption that I'm from the US will be accurate, the term has much broader use.

"I'm an American."
"I'm from the U.S."

That's what I used to teach my students in Japan. :)

Stephen Kozeniewski said...

I think this most comes into play when speaking with members of other nationalities from North and South America. I would tend to think Europeans use the same demonyms for United States citizens as we ourselves do (can any real Europeans confirm/deny?) Interesting counterpoint: some Spanish-speaking Americans (in the bicontinental sense) refer to The United States as "El Norte" - "The North" - even though Canada is north of the U.S. and depending on where you are, there could be multiple nations north of you but south of the U.S. So isn't that term just as inexact as saying "American" to mean "United States citizen?"

Unknown said...

That's why I love linguistics. It's the inexactness of communication that forces us to create new words and new terms to try to make better and better communication. I love it.

Anonymous said...

I usually use 'the States' - as in 'the United States' but shorter. The capital 'S' is sort of implied by context.
I call myself an American - after all, everyone else on the continent has a more specific noun (Mexican, Colombian, Canadian...) to use, so most people do consider me American (and anything else is horrible - Statesian? USian?).
One of the advantages of the internet is that Americans in general are finally getting a LITTLE bit more global, though the proportion of people who say they're from America - and cause the resulting irritation in other Americans (continent) - is still the majority.
Ah, the laws of unintended consequences.

R. E. Hunter said...

To be pedantic (something I enjoy being 8^), it should be USA. "US" stands for "United States", which can refer to any group of states that have been united anywhere in the world. As Lauren mentioned, "America" refers to both North and South America. Only "United States of America" accurately identifies the group of states within America that have been united into a single country. The problem of course is that the founders didn't give the country a proper name, like Canada or Mexico.

But pragmatically, through long misuse, everyone knows that "US" and "America" both refer to the USA.

The only other country I know that made such as mess of things is England/Britain/Great Britain/United Kingdom.

Jordan McCollum said...

Timely, timely :D . My WIP is set in Canada (errant pedantry? The Dominion of Canada, even though they've consistently dropped usage of the D word for decades), but the MCs are all "USicans" (LOL).

Naturally they interact with a lot of Canadians. Sometimes I have the American characters use "America" for the States, but usually it's "the US" (abbr'd) or "the States." It just felt weird to call it "America" when they're out of the country but still on the continent.

(In Spanish, the term is "estadounidenses," kinda like "United Statesians.")

Anonymous said...

In my family, the colloquial is 'gringo/a' - it isn't pejorative per se, but can be give a nice negative tone if said gringo is being a pest.
I don't mind being a gringa, as long as the tone isn't too negative - it isn't nearly as pejorative as the n-word is.
Estadounidense is unrealistic, except in newspapers - Mexican newspapers (the only ones I'm familiar with) are practically unreadable to to their predilection for using the longest possible way of saying anything. It doesn't help that Spanish does that anyway. On the other hand, it always sounds better.

linda said...

I say "I'm from the States" or "I'm an American." The only time I say "I'm from America" is when I'm talking to a local Taiwanese (I live in Taiwan now) when asked where I'm from, since they understand America to be the USA and don't understand me as well when I say "the States." It feels so awkward for me to say it, though!

Shelver 506 said...

I usually say I'm from "the US" or "the States" but that I live in "America."

Europeans, especially Brits, make a big stink about how "America" is supposed to mean the continents, not the country. Technically true, but realistically stupid.

"America," to me, is one of several perfectly legitimate abbreviated titles for "The United States of America." I have never ever heard anyone living in either the Southern or Northern continent profess to be from "America" except for Americans, so I can hardly believe there would be much confusion except by the deliberately obtuse.

That and it irks me just a bit that I'm not allowed to call my country what I wish. I don't go around telling Germans, "It's Germany, not Deutschland, you idiot!"

But that's more of a stubbornness issue, I suppose.

Edittorrent said...

Shelver, with you there. I tell Canadians, "Hey, when your country's name is Canadian States of America, 'American' might work."

North American works for Mexican and Canadian surely, but if they want to call themselves "American," they better be ready to be mistaken for residents of the USA. We don't have another name, though I do sort of like USIcan.

I think of the "US" as the governmental entity, and "America" more as the geographic and cultural entity. Does that work? Like "The US military" or "US labor statistics," but "American soul music" and "American mountains?"

RE, I'm in England now, and you're right-- it's crazy. This is the United Kingdom AND Northern Island. But there are also Crown Colonies or other things like Mann and the Channel Islands. I don't know how they keep track. One thing I've noticed though is the UK claims all great athletes that have any connection.