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Is it actually correct to use “American” when referring to residents of the United States? I was traveling in Peru last summer and to my surprise realized for the first time that people down in South America consider themselves to be “Americans” too. After all, South America is as “America” as North America, right?

So to be clear, for a technical publication I’m working on, what’s the best way to refer to residents of the US? Is “American” still acceptable? The study I’m quoting uses “US residents,” but there are times when that phrase becomes unwieldy.

  • Posted by Rob
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The term "American" can refer either to a person of one of the nations of the Americas or to a citizen of the United States. In English, the term American is the most common and correct way to refer to a US citizen despite the linguistic ambiguity.

I know several people from Spanish speaking countries who refer to themselves as "Americans" when speaking English in order to differentiate themselves from Europeans. This is mainly a failing of the English language, or possibly because the USA just needs to get a proper bloody name.

Other languages (French comes immediately to mind) use cognates to refer to Americans while other languages such as Spanish use terms referring to the United States to refer to US citizens. For example, in Spanish if you wanted to refer to someone or thing from the New World it would be "americano" someone from North America would be "norteamericano" while a US citizen would be "estadounidense".

Sloth Nov-05-2011

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"United States of American"? Really? It would at least be "United States American". In any case, I see nothing wrong with saying U.S. American. How hard is it to add a half-second prefix? Yet another testament to this country's monumental laziness. I have both heard and seen other inhabitants of this particular island refer to themselves (or others) as 'American' when they do not reside within the borders of the U.S.A. Similarly, 'Native Americans' don't have to have originally (or currently) reside within the states. The Aztecs were a native people to the continents of America, thus they are Native Americans. It's not politically correct, it's logically correct.

The most common usage that I have come across is when someone from Peru, another from Brazil, and a third from Argentina are identifying themselves as a group (though I typically see it in larger numbers than that) then they say that they are 'Americans'. That is, they are from the continent of (South) America.

But again, we in the U.S. of almighty A. think that since we're so great and since it's the only term for us, we should be entitled to use it exclusively, and everyone else better shut the hell up.

With a minimal amount of context, I doubt it would be unclear which type of American is being referred to. Just find out if they're arrogant, self-serving, lazy, or obese (or any combination) and you're sure to have found a resident of the U.S.A. ;)

Ok, ok. Maybe that's a bit harsh. Thankfully this problem only exists in English (what a lovely language).

Hacovo Nov-30-2011

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Yes, it is correct to refer to citizens of the USA as Americans. I truly don't think anyone in the world will not know that you are referring to the citizens of the USA.

Having been to Peru and lived other Latin American countries, I have never heard anyone refer to themselves as "Americans". If they wanted to do so, they would more precisely be South Americans if they wanted to refer to being residents of the continent. If I say, "Soy de America." There is no confusion as to where I am from.

The USA is the United States of America ... not the US of North America nor the US of the Western Hemisphere nor the US of the Americas. The Americas (plural) refer to North, Central, and South America ... But the only "America" is the United States of America. To say it any other way is just kowtowing to political correctness.

Is there anyone in the world who say that he is going to America and mean anywhere else but the USA? If someone is referred to as "an American" is there anyone who thinks the person is from anywhere but the USA?

You can be politically correct if you want ... but it is correct to refer to the citizens of the USA as Americans. It's been that way for well over 200 years.

AnWulf Oct-30-2011

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I'm chilean, thus I'm american because I live in The Americas, and I consider it's offensive when a US citizen says he is american meaning he is from US.

That being said, I can understand that "american" in english is widely used to refer to a US citizen and I can live with that, but what really bothers me is when someone speaking spanish refers to a US citizen as "americano", because it's not just offensive but also wrong, the reason is that in spanish the correct demonym for a US citizen is "norteamericano" or "estadounidense", and not under any circumstance "americano", that's totally wrong in spanish.

Anyways, I have many friends from the US and I have no problem in drinking a beer with them as long as they don't say in spanish they are "americanos", lol.

I hope this could help to clarify something from a latin-american point of view.

Sergio Jun-06-2012

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From Encarta: America: "a landmass comprising North America, South America, and Central America". "The use of America to mean the United States may cause offense to people from Canada and Central and South America, and SHOULD BE AVOIDED." (I'm argentinian and I actually think it IS offensive. "Nadie les dijo que se pongan como nombre de país el nombre del continente completo").

German Mar-16-2012

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Sloth is right. In English, 'American' is the correct term for a resident of the US, but in Spanish it is technically 'estadounidense'.

Also, North and South America are considered one continent in South America (whereas we consider it two continents), so I can see why there might be confusion for English speakers to hear South Americans call themselves 'American'. To them, everyone residing on these two continents are 'Americans'.

user1068772 Nov-16-2011

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Something that is widely ignored in the USA is that "America" is the name officially given to the continent in 1507 by German cartographer Martin Waldeesmüller when the first official map showing the new continent was printed. In actuality, "America" only and exclusively applied to southern America. From then on, the inhabitants of the newly discovered continent were refered to as "Americans". Much later, the central and northern hemisphere were included in the concept of America.

This is why you will most likely start a fight in Ameirca, because the terms "America" and "American" were never used to mean "USA" and "US citizen", so obvioulsy it feels like an unfair appropriation of terms that have defined millions of people for longer than the existence of the USA. The USA lives in some sort of isolated bubble from the rest of America and that is why it is widely ignored this piece of history in the USA. No country has the right to appropriate terms that define millions of people equally.

Many educated people in the USA have acknowledged this problem and have come up with proper demonyms to exclusively mean "US citizen" such as United Statesian, Usanian or Usonian. Some online dictionaries allow the use of "United Statesian" although Usanian also sounds like a good demonym because it is even more distinctive and shorter if you want one short.

Until the USA gets its proper official demonym this will to come to an end.

Joade Mar-21-2015

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I won't speak for everyone, but usually, those from South America would not call themselves Americans, but would refer to their country of origin. They would be Peruvians, Brazilians, Bolivians, Argentinians, etc. Also, those to the north are Canadians. When USA citizens call themselves Americans, they mean the USA, not "the Americas, North and/or South" in general. They're talking about their country, not their continent.

porsche Oct-31-2011

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Speaking as a Canadian, I do not wish to be referred to as an American.

But I am also not bothered in the least that term is used by folks in the US to describe themselves.

JJMBallantyne Nov-12-2011

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As a Brazilian I can say that it's a very debated topic, at least here in Brazil. Some people get offended by only the (US)Americans being called this way, like it's "unfair".

Everyone who live in the countinent named America can be called American, but lenguages are dynamic, casted by its usage. So, since it's practically stated that people who live in the North America are Americans, I don't see the harm on using it.

Although I strongly believe that in an official or academic paper you should not use simply American, but North Americans or US residents. Anyway, I think it should be specified.

Picture, for example, a South American reading your work. Is there a chance he or she get offended? Then avoid it.

Lucas Brazilian Moura Jan-06-2012

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In Japan, foreigners are labelled as "Gaijin", or "Outside Person". When you have lived there a long time you may be called "Hengaijin", or "Strange Outside Person". The "Strange" part refers to the expectation that most non-Japanese don't stay there long. As the invading peoples of the USA look set to stay there for the foreseeable future I would like to suggest "Strange Americans" as the collective term for long standing citizens of the USA whose ancestry is not linked to "Native Americans". ;-)

Please note the winky! I am not being serious.

Aeomer Jan-11-2012

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"I'm argentinian and I actually think it IS offensive."

Stop - you're breaking my heart!

You folks also believe the Falklands are the Malvinas. But you lost that argument too.

Life isn't fair. Get used to it.

JJMBallantyne Mar-16-2012

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@Sergio, you can't logically claim that someone from the US is a "norteamericano" and then claim that you, from SOUTH America, are an American ... You would be a South American. A North American would be anyone from North America which includes Mexico and Canada not just from the USA. ... By the way, Mexico is officially the "United States of Mexico" but no one ever gets confused about which country they're talking about when they say, "estados unidos". Folks from the Unites States of Mexico are Mexicans and folks from the Unites States of America are Americans ... It really is just that simple.

Americans are from America (singular) ... not from the Americas (plural) and usually the Americas are referred to as the Western Hemisphere so the word Americas, while it does exist, is seldom noted.

Also, it may sound kind of thuggish, but America was the first nation to claim the name for both the country and its citizens ... Americans started using it before anyone else in Western Hemisphere even thought about being called anything but a citizen of their respectiv European countries. First come, first serve.

If you're insulted by it ... too bad. When I'm in S. America I don't hav a problem with telling folks, "Soy Americano" any more than telling someone in Germany, "Ich bin Amerikaner." No one has, yet, has said anything about it and if they did, I'd giv them an earful.

AnWulf Jun-06-2012

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Hay algo que no se ha mencionado: En español no utilizamos la palabra "americas" para referirnos al continente americano, se utiliza -simplemente- América.

Es sólo UNA masa de tierra, no tres. Asia es mucho más grande aún y no veo que se utilice las "Asias".

Creo que allí reside la diferencia en la interpretación de "americano". Just because in english people mean "american" to those from ONE america not the americaS, a concept that -as said- doesn't exist in spanish.

Arturo Aug-20-2012

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"The Oxford Companion to the English Language":


In modern English, North and South America are generally considered separate continents, and taken together are called the Americas in the plural, ..., without a clarifying context, singular America commonly refers in English to the United States of America.

Since the 18c, a name of the United States of America.


This seems to only be a true problem in Spanish. As someone pointed out abuv ... and my Brazilian friends confirm ... in Brazilian Portuguese, an "americano" is someone from the US. As someone esle pointed out, in other tungs suchs as German, an "Amerikaner" is from the US. I livd in Germany for a few years and never met anyone who thought of an "Amerikaner" as anyone but someone from the US.

Nonetheless, we're talking about English here. Someone from the United States of Mexico (estados unidos de Mexico) is a Mexican, someone from the United States of America is an American as well as a North American. A Mexican is also a North American (as is a Canadian), an Argentian or a Brazilian is also a South American.

The US, Canada, and Mexico are part of the North American Free Trade Association. They are all North Americans.

Central America is a region of the continent of North America.

In English, an American refers to someone from the US. Otherwise, it is North or South American to refer to someone from one of the TWO continents In English it is not one but two continents and together they are the Americas (plural).

There is no confusion in English about this. Spanish speakers want to bring their confusion about the whole thing into English and act offended. Too bad.

AnWulf Mar-28-2015

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@Arturo ... maybe where you're from, it may be true. I haven't been to every country in South America but I do spend a lot of time in Argentina. There, they ask me if I am an "americano". They do not seem to be baffled or upset by it at all.

There are seven continents
1. Africa
2. Antarctica
3. Asia
4. Australia
5. Europe
6. NORTH America
7. SOUTH America

Further, as nshereoo pointed out, many call American "norteamericanos" ... therefore, it does exist in Spanish! So you're claim that it doesn't exist in Spanish is thus counter'd. Folks in Latin American claiming to be "Americans" is political correctness that has no historical foundation.

Your claim that Spanish doesn't use the word "americas" doesn't hold up either ... Universidad de Las Americas, is a private Chilean university ... if there is only one America in Spanish then why is that plural? There is even "La Playa de las Américas" in the Canary Islands. If they aren't playing off the AmericaS, then why the plural?

Then there is: "Arqueología Suramericana/Arqueologia Sul-Americana", published by the Department of Anthropology, Universidad del Cauca (Colombia) and the Ph.D. Program on Social Sciences of the School of Humanities of the Universidad Nacional de Catamarca (Argentina). Looks like they know that they live in South America.

Folks who live in the United States of America are Americans; those who live in the United States of Mexico are Mexicans ... Is that such a hard concept? BTW, technically "estadounidense" would be wrong as well since Mexico is "Estados Unidos Mexicanos" ... Thus, someone from Mexico also an "estadounidense".

Next, we're truly talking about English here. In English, there is no doubt about who Americans are. In English, a "North American" is anyone from north of the Panama Canal (technically, Central America is part of North America). Thus in English you can either go the long, convoluted way and say something like "a resident of the United States of America", note a non-standard wording like "USer" or "USian" if informal like the net, or you can say "American".

AnWulf Aug-20-2012

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Technically, anyone who lives in the Americas is American. Canada, the US and Mexico make up North America, then there is Central America and South America. Every countries citizens refer to themselves by their country of birth to be specific about where they are from. The only country that doesn't refer to their country is us in the United States. Why? 1. We are ego maniacs who think the universe revolves around us and so we have no problem taking the American title for ourselves. 2. United Statesian or United States of American sounds stupid.

Yvetter Sep-12-2012

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AnWulf, I think what Sergio is saying is that all of us can call ourselves americanos meaning we are from the Americas, but when you are specifically talking about the country you come from you shouldn't say americano in spanish, because that does not refer to a citizen of the United States in spanish, even though in english that is alright to say.
I'm Canadian, and studying in Chile right now, and it really really bothers me when I read academic texts here when they refer to citizens of the US as "norteamericanos"!!!!! ARGH Sergio, can you please tell your paisanos and the rest of South America the US citizens should not be called "norteamericanos"!? Norteamericanos are anyone from Canada, the US or when referring to a person from the US, it should be "estadounidense" not "estadounidense o norteamericano"! This is more aggravating to me than the debate over whether US citizens should be called Americans. I like Hacovo's idea to say U.S. Americans. I always try to avoid using the term Americans when referring to U.S. Americans in my writing to the point where it is probably difficult to read.

nshere00 Jun-19-2012

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@AnWulf Since you speak spanish, you may look at this:

As you see, there are many continental models. The "traditional" six-continent model is the usual in Latin America. Also, you can see that most models consider "América" as an unique continent (may be because the Panama Canal is an artificial division).

Regarding to the "American" issue, according to english Encarta: America: "a landmass comprising North America, South America, and Central America". "The use of America to mean the United States may cause offense to people from Canada and Central and South America, and should be avoided." I´m argentinian and many people I know think it is offensive. May be the people you talked with are just being polite. :-)

Sorry for my english.

German Aug-20-2012

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Oh my eyes hurt. Why so much talk about Americans? As far as I'm concern, I'm no more American than my neighbors Mexico and Canada. I prefer to just say I'm from the U.S. Anyone on American continent is American plus their county or just say your country It just simplifies it much better. My country is US ----the end. :D

terre Aug-30-2012

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I find it interesting that a Question that has plagued me for years has also intrigued others. As a child in school ( in the U.S.) my first recollection of who I was and where I was from was American. Later. American from the United States of America. Troubled me not till I was older and found out the history books I was taught from not only contained inaccuracys but outright fabrications. The older and hopefully wiser you get in the US you realize the prejudices, the race segregations and the diversity of the people in general , ( and of course Lazy-ness as earliar put forward have all contributed to the people IE; White European decendents laying sole claim to the name American, in the beggining of this country's history. Even more interesting is the use of American .Iin the South of the U.S. . Some, not all were brought up On tails and storys of the Civil war passed down, and in an act of defiance .see themselves as citizens of The Confederate States of America. The use of the term American squarely puts them in this country but they never have to refer to themselves by ther hated Yankee name for the country United States.
Well, in this melting pot of a country , in the 21st century as the calender we use says it is. and in the 60th year of my life, I am tired of trying to tell beer swilling bigots and die hard religeous freeks and the rest of the chest thumping idiots who think in there tiny minds the rest of the world should revere an American, that because of
a German Cartographer who lived over five hundred years ago that everyone born in this Hemisphere has a sudo Italian name. I just tell anyone that asks ( usually custom agents) I am a U.S. citizen. and if asked "Where's that? I will tell them cheerfully and without being condecending. Even though this country is challenging to live in because of the wittingly or un-whitting ignorance of so many of it's citizens (including me), the forfathers of the government set up rules to live by, (The Constitution), that weather the knew it or not would allow all the peoples and ideologys to coexist together. It is always under assault by those that wish to do away with all but there own kind. It has withstood the assault for over 200yrs it may fall in time as all things do , but I hope not. Freedom to express your thoughts without government censorship is comforting. American, U.S. citizen, or whatever you wish to call yourself. it is your right! Peruvians, Bolivians,Brazillians, are beautiful names that roll off the tongue easily even English. United States citizen ,U,S citizen. A bit dry and not very sexy like American, but try to use them like a hate word like American has so often been, and the the person saying it sounds more funny than menacing. Kind of like using Librarian as a derogotory word. Just doesn.t work

John_D Oct-12-2012

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If you want to be sensitive to the PC police among us who believe that someone is offended every time a person uses "American" to refer to a resident of the US, then by all means, please, say "United States of American". You should also stop referring to the English as British--after all, there are other British people who also call themselves British.

Hairy Nov-01-2011

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i've heard people from south america refer to themselves as 'americans' too. the thing is that US citizens have no other way to refer to themselves than 'american' (unless you include the ridiculous things said in previous comments, which i don't). people from peru are peruvians, etc. but people from the US can only be called americans, so in my opinion that word should refer strictly to them.

but whatever is said here in this comments section isn't going to change anything in the world, so just go on calling people whatever you want and be prepared to make yourself clear in the future when referring to a brazilian as an american. :)

christie Nov-06-2011

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1. The article states:
The seven-continent model is usually taught in China, India and most English-speaking countries.
The six-continent combined-America model is taught in Latin America ... (the other one in Spanish also says Spain).

No surprise there. They say that imitation is the highest form of flattery. That folks from Latin America wish to call themselves Americans is a nod to the United States and when the US was a beacon a freedom and the LA countries were dictatorships, it was understandable. But given that the US is marching towards a police state while many LA countries are now freer, they might want to rethink that.

Perhaps you can tell me when Latin Americans started calling themselves an "Americanos". What is the date of that first use that you can find?

Again, we're talking about what is right in English here. In English, it is North and South America.
3 ... You're missing the point. "Arqueología Suramericana/Arqueologia Sul-Americana" (South American Archaeology) is publish'd by South Americans ... (Colombia and Argentina). It not "Arqueología de América".
4. No, not in English. For byspel ... The two major dialects of English are American English and British English. American-made means made in the US. In English, an American is someone from the US. Otherwise, one must specify.

AnWulf Aug-31-2012

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The correct Demonym for USA is …
‘U.S. Americans’!

North and South Americans are all Americans (no matter who agrees and disagrees).

If I answer what country I am from, I will say Canadian!

If I answer what continent I am from, I will say American! Right away, they have to ask: What part of America or what type? I will say North American!

Thus, I will always mean/refer to ‘the Americas’ (and their citizens) whenever I say America(ns)!

CraigLungren Nov-02-2020

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Yes, indeed they do! We use the term USAmericans and it seems to work well colloquially, though I don't know about how it would fly for publications....

Emily1 Oct-29-2011

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Unless your article also speaks of South America and you need to distinguish the two, use 'Americans'. Unless you are comparing and contrasting another population, most people generally recognize 'American' as meaning from the US. You could specify 'North Americans' if your population includes Canada and Mexico.

J1 Oct-31-2011

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Well... I came to answer to Anwulf, but German already did my work.

I was going to say more or less the same.

However, I woud like to add:

2) I agree with the fact that an University got that "Americas" in its name. But you won't find that expression in day-life, news, newspapers. You can use it in some more... elegant or in a literary style of writing.

3) "Looks like they know that they live in South America." Surely we know where we live. If some people from Poland or Hungary know they live in eastern Europe do not mean there is a second European continent. I'm from the west region of my country, but is still one country.

4) I`m Argentinian as well, from Mendoza. Most people I know don't thnk the use of "americano" by US citizens is fair. I agree with German in this point: People you met was been polite.

4) Someone or something natural to the Americas, as you call it (without specify if is from North or South) isn't American?

Arturo Aug-21-2012

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Yvetter ... read up above and see why you're wrong ... this ground has already been cover'd.

BTW, just yesterday I was in a medium sized town in Argentina ... I met a Chilean lady in the lobby of the hotel and we chatted. I told her that I was from the United States. Her friend came down from upstairs, an Argentine. When she introduced me to him (in Spanish) she told him that I was an "americano" (and no, there was no norte in front of it ... and she said it again a few minutes later). But that is neither here nor there as we're talking about English and not Spanish.

AnWulf Sep-14-2012

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In spanish we say "America" to mean the continent, so we can say we live in America becuase we are not Europeans, nor Asians, nor Africans, etc. But it seems that "Americans" don't get that.

Esteban Sep-03-2013

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At least as as I was taught in the US, North America is a continent, while Central America is a geographic region, as well as a historical, political group. Mexico is not part of that.

Bob Sheidler Sep-04-2013

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I am from MN USA , now living in England, and married to a man from here. We were having this discussion last nite. I am always referred to as being " from America" Not as American. I would rather be referred to as being from " the States" or from " the USA " Because of the grey area concerning all this, I think this makes it very simple because of the North and South . And Yes I am "an American " but from the States or USA, NOT from America.

Deb Brunette Feb-26-2014

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Americans are from The United States of America. Period. This refers to the COUNTRY of birth or citizenship-not to the CONTINENT of same. It's a very simple concept,& it's not about Americans being lazy or entitled- it's simply a fact. There are many different countries in The Americas,& many different cultures living in each country(the USA most definitely in particular), but only residents of the USA are AMERICAN. Notice the country's name: United States of America.
This is not a tough concept folks...

AnnaRegina Dec-21-2022

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I am not very comfortable calling myself "American" but, at least in my experience, most other residents of the Americas use the term only for residents of, or citizens of, the USA.

As noted, most others refer to themselves as Canadians, Mexicans, Brazilians, etc, or, sometimes as Central Americans, South Americans or Latin Americans.

Bob Sheidler Nov-19-2011

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This will hopefully be my last post here. I just want to make something clear, the whole thing is about the USE of the word American for US citizens. Not about the NOT USE of it, so there is a situation (is obvious, about that).

I'm not surprise a chilean will use "americano", they are US lovers so...

Anyway, as you can see I will cite some writings by your fellows Americans. Not just the name of an Archeological work from some University or what happened when in the hotel lobby. I will not even mention my own opinion, so take your time, read, learn and see that -at least- the use of "American" is not competly accurate and ambiguous.

" 'America' is used very generally both by writers and public speakers,
when they only intend the territory of the United States... It may have first came into
use as being much shorter to say 'Americans', than citizens of the United States"
-from Gazette of the United States, 16 Feb. 1791.-

"Every once in a while someone comes along who is perturberd
about Americans calling themselves Americans, feeling that we have no right
to use this term exclusively, that citizens of all nations os the American continent
are Americans."
-letter to editor, Christian Science Monitor, 1 Agu 1967-

"It is becoming presumtuous and inaccurate to refer to North Americans as 'Americans', specially in the context of defending or upsetting Central Americans, South Americans and Latin Americans"
-William Safire, NY Times Magazine, 3 June 1984-

"Names for United States citizens. International use.

International speakers of English refer to people from the United States as "Americans", while equivalents of "American" are used in many other languages.

French, German, Dutch, Italian, Japanese, Filipino, Chinese, Hebrew, Arabic, and Russian speakers use translations of American , to refer to U.S. citizens. Spanish and the Brazilian dialects of the Portuguese, use terms derived from Estados Unidos, the translation of "United States" – estadounidense and estadunidense, respectively.

In European Portuguese the term americano is used to describe US citizens or things. Although the term estadunidense is growing in usage, in Brazil americano is still said to describe U.S. citizens. These languages, especially Portuguese in both its European and Brazilian variants, also use translations of North American: norteamericano and norte-americano.

The same linguistic ambiguity that occurs in English when using the term "American" occurs in the other European languages; to compensate for this, French (predominantly Quebec French) and Italian speakers may refer to U.S. citizens as États-unien and statunitense respectively, though this is less common. German speakers may distinguish between "American" and "US-American" (German: Amerikaner and US-Amerikaner).

This confusion is also present in Portuguese, as people from the United States may alternatively be referred to as americanos in that language. However, in Spanish, americano chiefly refers to all people from north and south America, and using it in the United States sense, may be considered offensive to Spanish speakers; the Diccionario Panhispánico de Dudas de la Real Academia Española recommends instead "estadounidense."
-Names for United States citizens, Wikipedia-

Check this:

And... if is as clear as you say: Why is so easy to find so many articles about this subject? I didn't find any about if argentino is right or wrong.


PS: Is a Cougar an American animal or should I say "this feline is both Southamerican and Northamerican"??

Arturo Oct-11-2012

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A lot of confusion and ignorance in here; that's all I can say! I even laughed at some silly comments...

Orion Apr-27-2014

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First: Rob, thank you. Hug me.

Ok, now I'll read the rest of the text and the comments.

Lucas Brazilian Moura Jan-06-2012

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On a slightly different topic, is Mexico in North America or Central America?

jayles Sep-03-2013

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@Orion - so now we know how good you are put downs, how about something constructive? Or perhaps that really is all you can say.

Warsaw Will Apr-28-2014

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