Joe Gannon: What to call ourselves?

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Lum3n/via Pexels Lum3n/via Pexels

Published: 05-31-2024 2:27 PM

The discussion over whether to call ourselves American or not seems partly our recent addiction to purity, and partly a misunderstanding of language, and a wee bit of history.

Prior to the Civil War Americans referred to themselves by their state, a Virginian, Pennsylvanian, New Yorker. The USA then was spoken of in the plural, “the United States they …” After the Civil War the USA became a singular “it” and American came to be the word for a newly united set of states.

I never took any such questions from someone not from the Americas, though in the past my European friends brought it up just to break my chops. In the Americas however, it is about language. Mexico is the United States of Mexico, and its residents are Mexicans. In Spanish someone from the United States of America is an estadounidenses or united-stater. That would be the only term that would settle the less than serious question about what to call ourselves.

In the 1980s, some American general all in bed with the Nicaraguan Contras during the Reagan presidency, tried to popularize “united-stater” for that very reason. He got a lot of laughs, but I guess you could try again?

Joe Gannon