Labels September 29, 2007 2:10 AM   Subscribe

Why is the term "USian" used on MeFi in place of "American" so often?
posted by davidmsc to Etiquette/Policy at 2:10 AM (224 comments total) 1 user marked this as a favorite

Because 'America' is an ambiguous term. Also, we like inventing derogatory names for you Merkins.
posted by chrismear at 2:23 AM on September 29, 2007 [2 favorites]


Because "America" is (two) continents, and "US" or "USA" is a country, and because many other countries in these (two) continents resent it when we say "America" when we mean "The United States"?

If you're fishing for anti-American sentiment, respect for another country or countries isn't disrespect for one's own.

Short version: Grow a hide.
posted by loquacious at 2:24 AM on September 29, 2007 [4 favorites]


I can think of several reasons:
  1. A misguided attempt to pander to those who insist that the term "American" should refer to people from anywhere in North or South America, despite the common meaning of this term as used for the last 350 years, and the fact that they can't really use the term "American" as they wish without utterly confusing everyone;
  2. A similarly misguided attempt to tweak people from the U.S., who are probably more bemused than upset; or
  3. Why the hell not? It doesn't really matter.

posted by grouse at 2:24 AM on September 29, 2007 [9 favorites]


"A misguided attempt to pander to those who insist that the term "American" should refer to people from anywhere in North or South America, despite the common meaning of this term as used for the last 350 years"

Honestly, when you don't live there, it really does seem weird and illogical. I remember discussing this with friends at primary school.

Imposing logic on illogical language is (weakly) funny, which is why we computer types like to use "boxen" as the plural of box. It's a mild joke. That's all.
posted by i_am_joe's_spleen at 2:27 AM on September 29, 2007


Because the Brits felt that 'Fucking Yanks' just wasn't good enough.
posted by B(oYo)BIES at 2:30 AM on September 29, 2007 [1 favorite]


It's not really illogical because saying that all natural languages should be unambiguous is what would be truly illogical. It is ambiguous, whether you live there or not.

While "mild joke" fits under "why the hell not?" I probably should have mentioned it as a fourth category.
posted by grouse at 2:47 AM on September 29, 2007


It's not just used on MeFi... I first encountered it several years ago in a quiz room that was mostly populated by Europeans. I thought it was an unusual (but fun) term, and more geographically specific than "American." I'm an American (or USian if you prefer) and I even use the term myself sometimes, mostly for silliness.
posted by amyms at 2:57 AM on September 29, 2007


"American" can mean South American, Canadian, Mexican, whatever. Also, "USian" is shorter and quicker to type.
posted by Brittanie at 3:04 AM on September 29, 2007


I think it's clumsy and a bit dumb, but if it annoys the yanks, I'm all for it!

Goddamn that Amerigo Vespucci!
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 3:06 AM on September 29, 2007 [1 favorite]


Are there Americans who are actually annoyed by it, though? If you want to be willfully offensive, surely there are better ways. (Not "merkin" either though, since not very many Americans know what it means.)
posted by grouse at 3:28 AM on September 29, 2007


Most of the rest of the world thinks we're all gun-toting, slack-jawed, war-mongering yokels, passively re-electing criminals to our highest offices... I hardly think the use of the term "USian" is going to do any more damage.
posted by amyms at 3:37 AM on September 29, 2007 [1 favorite]


If you want to be willfully offensive, surely there are better ways.

Excuse me?
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 3:37 AM on September 29, 2007


I suspect it might be retaliation for calling British folk European.
posted by srboisvert at 3:42 AM on September 29, 2007 [2 favorites]


Hey, as always, there's USians and THEMians, right?
posted by flapjax at midnite at 3:49 AM on September 29, 2007 [12 favorites]


The only country in the world with 'America' as part of their name is USA. If I refer to anything or anyone from South America I say South American. Similarly for North America. When I refer to both sides of the equator I say 'The Americas'. The established custom is to say American when referring to things or people from USA. I always stumble at USian because I read it as spelt but my brain always thinks 'Asian' for a half a sec. But anyway, there is nothing wrong with the word American when used with respect to people and things from the United States. I just don't get why anyone would think otherwise.
posted by peacay at 4:04 AM on September 29, 2007 [14 favorites]


Here you go, Mr USian. "US American" seems like the term I would be most apt to start using, were I to switch.

"America" is just a broad term which – when you're from another country on either of the two continents – doesn't seem like it should be used for only the US. You pretty much never, ever, ever hear "America" used for the US, in Canada. It's "the States." Or "the United States", if you're being formal.
posted by blacklite at 4:09 AM on September 29, 2007


Relevant excerpt from the above: "Latin Americans consider everyone in the Americas to be americanos. Use of the word to refer specifically to U.S. citizens may be seen as ignorant, arrogant, incorrect, or even self-serving depending on the context. ... in American Spanish, the word estadounidense is used to describe U.S. nationals, and the use of the word American to refer to only U.S. nationals is seen as culturally aggressive and imperialistic in nature."

Also, to me, in Canada, it seems more natural to say, of your visiting friend from the United States, "he's from the States", rather than "he's American."
posted by blacklite at 4:19 AM on September 29, 2007


Hey, as always, there's USians and THEMians, right?

So that's how it's pronounced. I always wondered. US American works OK. USian is just ugly.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 4:21 AM on September 29, 2007


Just don't call me a Yankee, or I'll go home.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 4:22 AM on September 29, 2007


Uh... in most of the other countries in the Americas, the proper term is "Americanos". So if I say "Americans" and not "Americanos", I am obviously referring to someone living in an English-speaking country lying on either of the American continents. Even a sub-par intellect should be able to distinguish which of the handful of English-speaking countries is meant by context, especially given that the second largest concetration of "Americans" (not Americanos) already has the handy moniker of "Canadjuns", being that they are from the fierce hinterland of the vast and proud province of Canadia. Unfortunately, some people are so tied up in being politically correct that they forget the purpose of communication is to convey meaning through both words and context, and so insist on generating useless terms that obstruct efficient, meaningful and productive dialogue.
posted by Eideteker at 4:25 AM on September 29, 2007 [7 favorites]


On second preview, what blacklite said.
posted by Eideteker at 4:26 AM on September 29, 2007


Thing about saying "he's from the states" which is correct and works fine and all, is that it's really weird to say "stateians" when referring to a larger group of people from the United States of America.
posted by dabitch at 4:29 AM on September 29, 2007


dabitch writes "Thing about saying 'he's from the states' which is correct and works fine and all"

Same problem. Americans is used to mean people from the USA, but it could also refer to people from other parts of the Americas. "The states" is used to mean the United States of America, but it could also refer, for example, to the United Mexican States.
posted by Bugbread at 4:37 AM on September 29, 2007


Sort of like how Charlize Theron is an African-American?
posted by Rhomboid at 4:38 AM on September 29, 2007


Oh, didn't think of that.
posted by dabitch at 4:39 AM on September 29, 2007


Americans is used to mean people from the USA, but it could also refer to people from other parts of the Americas.

(sigh) But it doesn't. It "could", of course, but it doesn't.
posted by evilcolonel at 4:43 AM on September 29, 2007


Septics!
posted by Abiezer at 4:57 AM on September 29, 2007


Thing about saying "he's from the states" which is correct and works fine and all, is that it's really weird to say "stateians" when referring to a larger group of people from the United States of America.

Having spent most of my life in Canada, I hear people refer to "the States" often enough, and yet somehow I've never had to think much about that particular grammatical problem. But "statesians" or the like would seem a distant possibility; "Statesmen" or "Statists" come to mind more readily. "Staters"?

If for some reason one doesn't want to grant the USA (a.k.a. America, the States, the Excited States of Hysteria) a monopoly on the word "America", it is not particularly logical to instead give them the more general word "state".

USians is a start, but there are so many possibilities to choose from. Americanians? USAns? Unitarians? I vote for "Unistaticans".
posted by sfenders at 5:40 AM on September 29, 2007


In Spanish the word is estadounidense, which I would literally translate as "United-Statesian."

Don't forget that you can't spell "estadounidense" without "dense." LOLUSIANS!!!
posted by grouse at 5:43 AM on September 29, 2007


I use USian because I'm proud of my country and don't want all the Europeans I meet to think I come from one of those South American mud people enclaves that hardly deserve the term nation. Chile? That's something you eat, not somewhere you live. Argentina? More like Plumbumina, amirite? Brazil? Why would you name a country after a painful beauty treatment? That's beyond decadent: it's soulsick.

"What about Canada?" you ask. I'll just say that no one gets the chance to mistake me for Canadian twice.
posted by Lentrohamsanin at 5:46 AM on September 29, 2007 [12 favorites]


In Spanish, americanos literally refers to "people from the Americas" and estadounidense, derived from Estados Unidos de América, specifically refers to "people from the United States". In other words, americanos does not literally translate to American as it is commonly accepted to mean in American and British English.

And there's a perfect example of using the word American in context. There is no confusion about whether I mean "English as spoken in the Americas" or "English as spoken in the U.S." Google has indexed about 95 uses of the phrase "USian English" and 2,840,000 uses of the phrase "American English". Furthermore, the first two results for "USian English" are from MeFi.

USian is a manufactured word for a manufactured issue. Use of the word American is widely accepted. In fact, I can not source a single instance of honest confusion.
posted by sequential at 5:46 AM on September 29, 2007 [2 favorites]


Southern north americans.
posted by Catfry at 5:59 AM on September 29, 2007 [2 favorites]


Why is the term "USian" used on MeFi in place of "American" so often?

Because it annoys exactly the sort of people its users wish to annoy, I suppose. Other terms are discussed here. But isn't "American" pejorative enough these days?

A term I'd like to see less of is the slangy "Brit" -- to me, it sounds about as appropriate (i.e., not very) as "Yank" in polite discussion. But I don't expect the world to change for me. (Here's a Wikipedia entry on alternative words for British.)
posted by pracowity at 6:16 AM on September 29, 2007 [1 favorite]


How do you pronounce it anyway?

uss-ee-ans
ush-ee-ans
yu-ess-ee-ans
?
posted by spec80 at 6:21 AM on September 29, 2007




Southern north americans.

Then there's the people who for some reason consider Mexico to be part of South America. I encountered that in Spain as well.
posted by lampoil at 6:38 AM on September 29, 2007


The nice thing about the term "USians" is that it embeds the clause "I'm pissy about something" right into the middle of any sentence in which it's used.
posted by Partial Law at 6:40 AM on September 29, 2007 [15 favorites]


(Oh, and that's "pissy" the American way, although I guess you might be drunk too. Don't let me stop you.)
posted by Partial Law at 6:41 AM on September 29, 2007


1. People from the United States refer to themselves as Americans, and have a hard time believing that people from other parts of North and South American ALSO call themselves americans. Much as french or germans refer to themselves as Europeans. USians seem to get offended by this, because their manifest destiny failed, and they were relegated to a small portion of the Americas.
2. There is no good (convenient) short form to use when referring to people from the United States of America.
3. People of African descent living in the Americas are NOT African-Americans, the are Americans. No one else uses those kinds of labels unless they're trying to single out certain groups.
4. There is no fourth point.
posted by blue_beetle at 6:43 AM on September 29, 2007


Also, you can draw parallels to calling people from Scotland English, when they are in fact British, and possibly European.
posted by blue_beetle at 6:44 AM on September 29, 2007 [1 favorite]


Three fewer keystrokes. Unless you count SHIFT and then it's just two.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 6:51 AM on September 29, 2007


Looks like there was a fourth point after all.
posted by grouse at 6:55 AM on September 29, 2007


Then there's the people who for some reason consider Mexico to be part of South America. I encountered that in Spain as well.

I thought Mexico was central America?. If I'm wrong I guess we could call people from US 'middle north americans'. Even better...
posted by Catfry at 7:21 AM on September 29, 2007


No, Mexico is in North America. Now, if you're wondering what continent Central America is on, you've got me. Seems like most consider it to be North America, so by that rule, Mexico would still be on North America even if it were part of Central America.
posted by lampoil at 7:29 AM on September 29, 2007


I thought the Monroe Doctrine stated that the USians were the only Americans that matter.
posted by MtDewd at 7:39 AM on September 29, 2007


"American" can mean South American, Canadian, Mexican, whatever.

Like evilcolonel said, it could in an alternate universe but it doesn't in this one. No one who sees the phrase "the American government" or "the American language" thinks for one moment some other country is being discussed. When I see someone refer to "USians" or the like, I just roll my eyes. (Of course, if you seriously want to save keystrokes, that's fine with me. Bt wh nt g frthr nd lv t th vwls?)
posted by languagehat at 7:40 AM on September 29, 2007 [3 favorites]


Hmm. I was troubled yesterday by a visiting pom who used the word "eskimo". So at least they have consistency. (And awesome old-world power to rename other nations as they like.)
posted by ~ at 7:42 AM on September 29, 2007


What do you have against the word Eskimo?

Yes, I know it's become stigmatized for spurious reasons up in Canada, and Canadians are always tut-tutting because we Americans use that horrible, awful word. I'm just curious to see whether you believe in the false "eaters of raw meat" origin that presumably lies at the root of the stigma.
posted by languagehat at 7:49 AM on September 29, 2007


What do you have against the word Eskimo?

It contains the substring "ski", which smears that noble people as gliders, rather than trundlers, across the snowy tundra. Which is the root of the longstanding myth about their having 100+ words for "Rossignal".
posted by cortex (staff) at 8:00 AM on September 29, 2007 [6 favorites]


The true secret is of course not to be so insecure as to give a tuppeny fuck about trifles like this.
In the immortal words of the Cockney wankers of Milwall, "No-one likes us, we don't care."
posted by Abiezer at 8:01 AM on September 29, 2007


This whole thing just confuses me. Mexico is properly the Estados Unidos Mexicanos. Yet we say "Mexicans." And if we said "EUians" then someone might think we were talking about people from the EU. And if we translated the Estados Unidos part into English, then...

I have to stop before my brain explodes.
posted by Robert Angelo at 8:04 AM on September 29, 2007


"Argentina? More like Plumbumina, amirite?"

This joke arrived 2000 years too late.
posted by stopgap at 8:09 AM on September 29, 2007


musn't share awful quip overheard at a party... argh too late! A Greenlandian girlfriend of mine was explaining to a English pal what it was like to be from Greenland in Denmark, while being quite upfront about using her status as minority to get fancy art grants. His reply: So, you're Inuit for the money?
posted by dabitch at 8:10 AM on September 29, 2007 [9 favorites]


I don't like it because it looks ugly and makes my brain stumble when I see it in a sentence. And really, I've never met a Chilean or an Argentinian who calls themselves an "American." They call themselves Chileans and Argentinians.

Personally, I'm fond of "septics" because only the Brits and Irish get it, and "merkin" because of that word's whole other meaning.
posted by CunningLinguist at 8:21 AM on September 29, 2007


Because AMERICA IS NUMBER ONE!!!!!!!!!

EAT IT, REST-OF-THE-WORLD!!!!!!
posted by The Deej at 8:23 AM on September 29, 2007


Because some people consider "Americunt" to be offensive.
posted by psmealey at 8:24 AM on September 29, 2007 [2 favorites]


To answer the original quesiton "Why is the term "USian" used on MeFi in place of "American" so often?"

Because there are too many posts about the tenuously united states of america?
posted by srboisvert at 8:33 AM on September 29, 2007


And really, I've never met a Chilean or an Argentinian who calls themselves an "American." They call themselves Chileans and Argentinians.

Right, but when we say, American, we're talking about the continent, not the US.
Except for me, I use "American" for "gringo" just to piss off my friends.
posted by signal at 8:33 AM on September 29, 2007


This joke arrived 2000 years too late.

And a peso short!
posted by flapjax at midnite at 8:37 AM on September 29, 2007


It's a lot faster to type than JesusLandian.
posted by Benny Andajetz at 8:40 AM on September 29, 2007 [1 favorite]


I personally believe the U.S. Americans are unable to say USian so because some, people out there in our nation don't have maps, and, uh, I believe that our education like such as South Africa and, uh, the Iraq everywhere like, such as and...I believe that they should, our education over here in the U.S. should help the U.S., err, uh, should help South Africa and should help the Iraq and the Asian countries, so we will be able to build up our future.
posted by ALongDecember at 8:42 AM on September 29, 2007 [3 favorites]


The one and only time I've ever heard anyone say USian out loud they said 'YOO-zee-an' and I thought they were saying New Zealand which caused me some confusion.

And personally I'm particular to usofan, pronounced 'yoo-SOAF-an.'
posted by Kattullus at 8:42 AM on September 29, 2007


You'll all regret all these condescending little euro-witticisms about us big dicked Americans when we plunge the entire fucking world into a thousand years of darkness, war, toxic collapse and crypto-facism, none of your windmills, active culture yogurt, smart cars or whole grain Wasa Crisps can save you, you bike-riding sissies.
posted by Divine_Wino at 8:49 AM on September 29, 2007 [19 favorites]


And you can all go fuck yourselves raw with the phrase "U.S. Americans", what unmitigated redundant pile of ratshit that is, Jesus wept.
posted by Divine_Wino at 8:52 AM on September 29, 2007


If anyone is interested in the origin of the phrase...

~~~~~ ACT II <0> (0:41) 5:38 / 6:19

! At the start of this act:

% Moe's has become the "Yes on 24 Headquarters", where people are
% spraying signs:
%
% Barney: Yes on 24!
% Moe: United States for United Statesians
% Homer: Homer say "Get Out"


As with everything anyone ever does, the Simpsons did it first.
posted by synaesthetichaze at 9:01 AM on September 29, 2007 [1 favorite]


american language hegemon here to tell you that "american" properly refers to a citizen of the united states of america. i acknowledge that there are other nations on the north american continent, but those people are canadians, mexicans, nicaraguans, etc., and there's a whole 'nother continent south of that, also with "america" in its name, populated by brazilians and bolivians and the like. this is the one true way of correct usage!

on the other hand, as an american, i acknowledge your right to pursue the false ways of incorrect usage. as long as it isn't disrespectful, i don't care, and usian is fine. i still don't understand why china, several decades ago, reached out and told us that "peking" is now "beijing" and "mao tse-tung" is now "mao zedong". it's still peking duck! that would be like me going to china and telling them how to pronounce los angeles and san francisco. why should i care how they pronounce it if i can't understand what they're saying about it anyway?
posted by bruce at 9:06 AM on September 29, 2007 [1 favorite]


i still don't understand why china, several decades ago, reached out and told us that "peking" is now "beijing" and "mao tse-tung" is now "mao zedong". it's still peking duck!

It's still "China" for that matter. See also: "Finland", "Germany", "Japan", "Korea", and a bunch more I'm sure.
posted by Lentrohamsanin at 9:10 AM on September 29, 2007


See also: "Finland", "Germany", "Japan", "Korea", and a bunch more I'm sure.

Actually, that's Suomi, Deutschland, Nippon and Daehan Minguk.
posted by Benny Andajetz at 9:24 AM on September 29, 2007


You want a fun debate, look up Czechia.
posted by smackfu at 9:28 AM on September 29, 2007


Actually, that's Suomi, Deutschland, Nippon and Daehan Minguk.

But wait a minute. Can we really trust anyone who misspells "and the Jets"?
posted by flapjax at midnite at 9:29 AM on September 29, 2007 [2 favorites]


It's to differentiate us from the residents of Canuckistan.
posted by mr_crash_davis at 9:29 AM on September 29, 2007


I refer to every one who lives everywhere as American, because even if you don't live in the United States, you either work for us or act as our aircraft carriers and munitions stockpiles.
posted by Astro Zombie at 9:50 AM on September 29, 2007 [1 favorite]


See also: "Finland", "Germany", "Japan", "Korea", and a bunch more I'm sure.

Actually, that's Suomi, Deutschland, Nippon and Daehan Minguk.


Yep, that thar was my whole point. English is full of these things, especially when it come to geography.
posted by Lentrohamsanin at 10:00 AM on September 29, 2007


What do you have against the word Eskimo? ... Canadians are always tut-tutting because we Americans use that horrible, awful word.

I s'pose the Canadians of note would be the Inuit, no? I believe it is the term generally preferred by the same. Er, the Inuit, not the Same. Ahem.

I don't know the basis of this preference. Do I need to? (Although I'll admit I'm curious.)

I wasn't aware Canadians are unusual for this. I would imagine it's because we're working through our historic and ongoing sins against the first nations. Perhaps there's an analogue among native americans or african americans? Or perhaps Canadians are just nicer than USians.
posted by ~ at 10:06 AM on September 29, 2007


I prefer USican (pronounced "USican")

stavrosthewonderchicken : Goddamn that Amerigo Vespucci!

Actually, there's a chance that it might be more accurate to say 'Goddamn that Richard Amerike!'
posted by quin at 10:09 AM on September 29, 2007


I've always wondered about the term "xian", myself. Do people use that when they're not too fond of christians, or what? Or is it just a way to save keystrokes?
posted by soundofsuburbia at 10:23 AM on September 29, 2007


Right, but when we say, American, we're talking about the continent, not the US.

Which continent? There is North America and there is South America. I'm pretty sure one should differentiate between the two.

And what languagehat said.
posted by CitrusFreak12 at 10:37 AM on September 29, 2007


I guess we could call people from US 'middle north americans'. Even better...

The American Eskimos (some of whom are also Inuit) might object to this idea.
posted by sfenders at 10:37 AM on September 29, 2007


soundofsuburbia: X is used to abbreviate Christ (like in Xmas), here comes the Wikipedia!
posted by ALongDecember at 10:37 AM on September 29, 2007 [1 favorite]


I don't think the word "American" is ambiguous in English. It only ever refers to people from the United States of America.
posted by Mr. President Dr. Steve Elvis America at 10:38 AM on September 29, 2007


You pretty much never, ever, ever hear "America" used for the US, in Canada.

I hear it and its derivatives often enough when I'm up there.

To answer the question, why do you see it so much?

(1) Because it's the internet, and what's the fucking point of talking on the internet without using acronyms and abbreviations wherever possible? USian is American 2.0

(2) Because it's the internet, where competitions to see who is the most sensitive and tender towards the concerns of purely hypothetical people are commonplace.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 10:43 AM on September 29, 2007


ALongDecember: Yeah, I know. But is it a slur?
posted by soundofsuburbia at 10:46 AM on September 29, 2007


...about their having 100+ words for "Rossignal"

NO, it's ROSSIGNOL.

And it's not an American company. Which means it doesn't count. Plus they changed their name to "Pure Mountain Country" which I think is copyrighted by a beer company or something. Which means they're trying to take advantage of American branding, because the only "Pure Mountain Country" is in Colorado. In the United States.
And everyone knows that Eskimos and Canadians love to club baby seals to death, plus kill the whales for their fat, and there aren't any whales in Colorado. Jeez. What the heck are you thinking?

Hey, aren't Eskimos Alaskans? Doesn't that make them Americans too?

Baby seal killers, every one of you. Trying to equate US Americans with those Eskimos.

What?
posted by disclaimer at 11:13 AM on September 29, 2007


Because we're MetaFilterians, and we could overthink a tectonic plate of human beings.
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 11:23 AM on September 29, 2007 [4 favorites]


i still don't understand why china, several decades ago, reached out and told us that "peking" is now "beijing" and "mao tse-tung" is now "mao zedong". it's still peking duck! that would be like me going to china and telling them how to pronounce los angeles and san francisco. why should i care how they pronounce it if i can't understand what they're saying about it anyway?

The pronunciation has not changed, only the spelling.

They changed their romanization system to be less ambiguous. The Chinese sound now written with a "b" sounds like a lot more like the English sound written with a "p." But is slightly different from the Chinese sound written with a "p."
posted by grouse at 11:27 AM on September 29, 2007 [1 favorite]


Worst call-out evar.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 11:28 AM on September 29, 2007


What do you have against the word Eskimo? Yes, I know it's become stigmatized for spurious reasons up in Canada

Here's what I have against the word "Eskimo": the Inuit don't like it, so instead of being a consummate asshole in their eyes, I choose to use the term they prefer.

It does not surprise me that Americans continue to use the word "Eskimo."
posted by five fresh fish at 11:55 AM on September 29, 2007 [1 favorite]


Isn't this stuff fun?

The term Eskimo has fallen out of favour in Canada and Greenland, where it is considered pejorative (see below) and the term Inuit has become more common. However, Eskimo is still considered acceptable among Alaska Natives of Yupik and Inupiaq (Inuit) heritage, and is preferred over Inuit as a collective reference. To date, no replacement term for Eskimo inclusive of all Inuit and Yupik people has achieved acceptance across the geographical area inhabited by the Inuit and Yupik peoples.
posted by smackfu at 12:07 PM on September 29, 2007


United States is ambiguous and confusing, since you can't tell whether it refers to the USA, the United States of the Ionian Islands, the United States of Venezuela, or some other group of states which have united.
posted by yohko at 12:21 PM on September 29, 2007 [2 favorites]


"I guess we could call people from US 'middle north americans'. Even better..."

The American Eskimos (some of whom are also Inuit) might object to this idea.


Damn you peoples-predominantly-of-the-geographic-area lying-mostly-between-the-30º-and-49º-north-on-the-continent-generally-known-as-North America-except-for-when-you-aren't!
posted by Catfry at 12:30 PM on September 29, 2007


I'm a cheesehead.

For you furriners, that means I'm from Wisconsin.
posted by desjardins at 12:33 PM on September 29, 2007


This thread has only strengthened my resolve to use USian (you-es-E-an) whenever possible.

Yesterday we had folks swearing up and down that "Don't mess with Texas" means what it originally meant (anti-litter campaign) no matter who uses it and how, because the original meaning was what was important.

Today we see the opposite argument (the original meaning of America - and look! it's still on all the maps - was of course to refer to everything from Canada to Argentina). Now it's the most common usage that's important.

Why is this? Because (surprise surprise) USians always think they're right, everyone else is stupid and wrong, non-USians would only ever take issue with USians because of jealousy, whatever is easiest for USian brains is best, and so on and so on.

Also, bite it.
posted by stinkycheese at 12:42 PM on September 29, 2007 [3 favorites]


On preview: I'm a stinkycheesehead.
posted by stinkycheese at 12:46 PM on September 29, 2007


USians is like Micro$soft. A useful identifier.
posted by smackfu at 12:47 PM on September 29, 2007 [1 favorite]


Eskimo: Add to that, the Dene (NWT) and the Slaveys (BC, Alberta and NWT) really, really don't like being called "Eskimos". They were traditional enemies. A bit like calling a Frenchman a Kraut.
posted by bonehead at 12:50 PM on September 29, 2007 [1 favorite]


Why do you hate America?
posted by univac at 12:52 PM on September 29, 2007


Yesterday we had folks swearing up and down that "Don't mess with Texas" means what it originally meant (anti-litter campaign) no matter who uses it and how, because the original meaning was what was important.

Today we see the opposite argument (the original meaning of America - and look! it's still on all the maps - was of course to refer to everything from Canada to Argentina). Now it's the most common usage that's important.


You're really having trouble with different people using different arguments in different circumstances? Doesn't surprise me, though, because Canadians are stupid.
posted by Mr. President Dr. Steve Elvis America at 1:03 PM on September 29, 2007 [2 favorites]


Whereas USians are ignorant and rude!
posted by stinkycheese at 1:11 PM on September 29, 2007


My point was that the argument depends on how the outcome effects the people of the USA.

But thanks anyways, Mr. America.
posted by stinkycheese at 1:12 PM on September 29, 2007


Ergh, affect.
posted by stinkycheese at 1:13 PM on September 29, 2007


USians is like Micro$soft.

Yes. trite, cliched, unfunny, meaningless, and an open invitation to skip the rest of what the person has written.
posted by drjimmy11 at 1:20 PM on September 29, 2007 [8 favorites]


I think "Don't mess with Texas" (a trademarked phrase coined in the 80's as part of an ad campaign) and "American" (a term used to refer to inhabitants of the USA for as long as it's existed) are sufficiently different that different approaches are justified (or even demanded) irrespective of the outcome.

Of course, that's too difficult for your tiny, cute Canadian bran to comprehend, so you assume (in line with your prejudices) that people are simply being intellectually dishonest.
posted by Mr. President Dr. Steve Elvis America at 1:20 PM on September 29, 2007


*rolls eyes*

Hey, it's not my problem if you can't even read a map, buddy. And let's keep my cute Canadian bran out of it.
posted by stinkycheese at 1:26 PM on September 29, 2007 [1 favorite]


What does map reading have to do with it? Do you think maps dictate the meanings of words? You are confused.
posted by Mr. President Dr. Steve Elvis America at 1:30 PM on September 29, 2007


Worst call-out evar.

I've rarely if ever agreed with davidmsc on anything, in fact "vehemently disagreed with every fibre of my being" would be a fair enough description most of the time. Nevertheless this is a perfectly reasonable and not uninteresting question pertinent to MeFi culture and elsewhere, and I think people are treating it as far more confrontational than is warranted.

I use USian and cognates thereof occasionally for reasons others have stated, because it's more strictly precise and accurate than American, especially when the subject or some participants of the conversation include other parts of the American continent. It might not be your choice that doesn't in itself invalidate it as my choice and if you have a problem with it, it does sound more like your problem than mine.

Anyway, you can read all you want into davidmsc's asking of the question (and probably be right) but all he did was ask.
posted by George_Spiggott at 1:38 PM on September 29, 2007


Map reading is actually the crux of it, genius. And no, I think dictionaries are where we go to find out the meanings of words.

But hey, why not just start from the top of the thread and read down to where you entered the fray? Hopefully that'll give you some clue of what the grown-ups are talking about.
posted by stinkycheese at 1:41 PM on September 29, 2007 [2 favorites]


Yes. trite, cliched, unfunny, meaningless, and an open invitation to skip the rest of what the person has written.

Exactly.
posted by smackfu at 2:03 PM on September 29, 2007


It's pedantic.
posted by dhammond at 2:16 PM on September 29, 2007


Map reading is actually the crux of it, genius. And no, I think dictionaries are where we go to find out the meanings of words.

Usage is the crux of it, and competent speakers commonly employ "American" to referr both to people from the Americas generally and to people from the United States of America particularly. The dictionary even says that "American" refers especially to people from the United States of America.
posted by Mr. President Dr. Steve Elvis America at 2:19 PM on September 29, 2007


So how do you folks feel when someone says "a brew" for a beer, a "ride" for car, or refers to a record (an old one now) as "vinyl"? Do all expressive, if trite, uses of minor variants of greater or lesser precision than the most common term carry so much baggage for you?
posted by George_Spiggott at 2:21 PM on September 29, 2007


Yes. trite, cliched, unfunny, meaningless, and an open invitation to skip the rest of what the person has written.

You might consider it works the other way, too: those who write "USian" and "Micro$oft" are filtering out dipshits who get all hung up on the least important part of their message.
posted by five fresh fish at 2:21 PM on September 29, 2007 [1 favorite]


Nevertheless this is a perfectly reasonable and not uninteresting question pertinent to MeFi culture and elsewhere, and I think people are treating it as far more confrontational than is warranted.

Is it really pertinent though?

It's not like Metafilter uses USian to the exclusion of American — the term "so often" begs its question.

Nor is it the case that USian is only used on Metafilter, and nowhere else on the web, let alone ITRW — so it is curious that this question is put to Metatalk, of all places.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 2:27 PM on September 29, 2007 [1 favorite]


Because (surprise surprise) USians always think they're right, everyone else is stupid and wrong, non-USians would only ever take issue with USians because of jealousy, whatever is easiest for USian brains is best, and so on and so on.

So, you're a "USian," I take it?
posted by dhammond at 2:30 PM on September 29, 2007


Competent speakers LOL.

In addition to the obvious nod to USians, the OED also states that an American is, "a native or inhabitant of any of the countries of North, South, or Central America".

Wow. Mindblower. Now let's look at the first comment you made in this thread.

Mr. President Dr. Steve Elvis America: I don't think the word "American" is ambiguous in English. It only ever refers to people from the United States of America.

Well, not in the English dictionary, it doesn't.

Game over for MPDSEA. Now it's time for you to find a thesaurus and go look for some insulting synonyms to respond with. Here's a helpful link to get you started.
posted by stinkycheese at 2:33 PM on September 29, 2007


Gawd, this again? Next why don't we rehash such fun usage arguments as "soccer" vs. "football" and whether baseball's "World Series" personifies U.S. arrogance.

To answer the question, which I assume was posed in good faith, I suggest it's usually just a dig at Americans. If it's true, as some have said here, that it's used in the interest of precision -- well, to me that smacks a little of Esperanto-style evangelism. Based on a (sometimes political) view of how language should be, not how it is. Revolutionary prescriptivism, maybe?
posted by donpedro at 2:40 PM on September 29, 2007 [1 favorite]


And, what about ATM machines? Am I right?
posted by found missing at 2:42 PM on September 29, 2007 [1 favorite]


Why is the term "USian" used on MeFi in place of "American" so often?

Well, Miss South Carolina got a lot of shit for her comment about maps, but she is indeed correct. Looking at one would answer your question very quickly.

Hint: The side that has a big N on it points up.
posted by c13 at 2:45 PM on September 29, 2007 [1 favorite]


I suspect it's the same people who think "DH" is cute for "darling husband." Or that's what I'm gonna say, because the "USian" people are exactly the types who would get pissed at the idea that they're not uber-cool and smarter than the rest.
posted by GaelFC at 2:46 PM on September 29, 2007 [1 favorite]


Ooh, yeah, and "GPS systems!"
posted by donpedro at 2:47 PM on September 29, 2007


As a red-blooded American, I actually like "USian". It's less typing, and being lazy I will defend to the death my right to use "USian" on as many web forums as possible.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 2:52 PM on September 29, 2007


Well, not in the English dictionary, it doesn't.

You know what I like about all of this? We can start just referring to Canadians as Americans. Because that's what you want, right? Isn't it best to spread the correct usage as far and wide as we can?
posted by dhammond at 2:55 PM on September 29, 2007


As a Canadian, I'd like to say Mister Smelly Cheese does not speak for me.
posted by evilcolonel at 2:58 PM on September 29, 2007


I think I usually write American (although I'm probably not meticulous about capitalization). I'm not sure whether I have ever use USian, but if I did, I certainly didn't mean it to denigrate.

I love Americans, although, like everyone I love, you often drive me crazy.
posted by timeistight at 2:59 PM on September 29, 2007


I just find it cute because it's a case of someone butchering proper English in an attempt to be pedantic.

On the other hand, it really really annoys a few Mexican friends of mine when they hear "America" used to just refer to the United States of America. Moreso than it seems to annoy davidmsc to see USian.
posted by Space Coyote at 3:10 PM on September 29, 2007


So if I say "Americans" and not "Americanos", I am obviously referring to someone living in an English-speaking country lying on either of the American continents.

Oh, like Belize?
posted by desuetude at 3:14 PM on September 29, 2007 [1 favorite]


It's usually used as an insult to people from the United States of America? I actually hadn't noticed that at all before.

What I have noticed is that it is tricky for me to use an adjective describing my country of origin. Sure, in the US and Canada, there is no ambiguity in using American whatsoever when speaking to other English speaking people from those countries. What happens when you are in Spain, though? Or in Argentina, or Mexico, or Belize? People from these countries do exist. They do use the word American to refer to all of the people from the two continents. And we do sometimes speak to them. Heck, we're speaking with them right now (hello to signal in chile!). So what's wrong with using a different adjective that's a little more descriptive? Especially when it means that we're not immediately labeled as an ignorant seppo who doesn't know basic geography?

Of course here in Mexico, I have been called out for the US thing, too, because of course they are also the US of Mexico. But thankfully most countries who are comprised of united states also have a more exclusive appellation. Most people in this country refer to themselves as people from Mexico, not as people from the United States, so even here I prefer the little flak from using USian to the major flak I'd get if I used American.

So this leads me back to the beginning. It is tricky. There is no perfect answer. But if I know that I'm speaking with people from a variety of places, I will say "USian" or "person/thing from the USA." I know that these are still problematic and I am aware that they sound overly pedantic and kind of douchey. But I think they sound less douchey than using American to mean a person from the United States when you're talking to other Americans not from the United States and basically verbally indicating that they don't exist.
posted by mosessis at 3:42 PM on September 29, 2007 [3 favorites]

I'm a no-good coward, and an American too.
A North American, that is
Not a South
Or a Central
Or a Native American
posted by kirkaracha at 4:31 PM on September 29, 2007


I thought Mexico was central America?

>No, Mexico is in North America.


What have you done to our children, Parker Brothers?!
posted by the other side at 4:43 PM on September 29, 2007


Where the hell were all you defenders of USAian during this?
posted by piratebowling at 4:59 PM on September 29, 2007


I think alt.usage.english's FAQ covers this well.
posted by The corpse in the library at 5:07 PM on September 29, 2007


It does not surprise me that Americans continue to use the word "Eskimo."

But it may surprise you to learn that many American Eskimos are not Inuit and resent being called by a name that is not theirs. But they should probably just bite the bullet and accept it so you can feel righteous.
posted by languagehat at 5:10 PM on September 29, 2007 [5 favorites]


Well, I've used USian because it's another word for "American", and having more than one word for things is entertaining. When I say it in my head, I say it OOSHYAN, which sounds exotic and squishy.
posted by oneirodynia at 5:26 PM on September 29, 2007


USa n.1
posted by phoque at 5:37 PM on September 29, 2007


Saying "citizen of the United States" or "USian" is no more accurate than "American" or America".

>United States of what? Mexico? Mexico's full name is the United States of Mexico? Saying 'the United States' is the least specific or accurate way you could refer to the United States of America.

>The word 'America' actually appears in 'The United States of America', but does not in the names of any other nation on the planet.

>'America' may refer to the entire Western Hemisphere in the dialects of Latin America, (or elsewhere), but not in dialect of English spoken in the United States of America. You would have to say 'the Americas'.

Likewise, 'Norteamericano' may be the proper way to refer to someone from the United States of America in Latin American dialects or elsewhere, but it's cognate in English, 'North American', does not carry the same meaning. People from Canada live in North America, as do Greenlanders, and in many usages, so do citizens of Mexico. 'Norteamericano' would be incorrect, were I to erroneously force the usage rules of American English on other languages and dialects. But, I wouldn't do something so foolish.

There is no reason to force Latin American conventions of speech upon American English anymore than there is reason to force the conventions of American English upon the dialects of Latin America.
posted by spaltavian at 5:41 PM on September 29, 2007 [6 favorites]


There is no reason to force Latin American conventions of speech upon American English anymore than there is reason to force the conventions of American English upon the dialects of Latin America.

Right, and there's also no reason to force the conventions of US English on Metafilter.

Nobody is actually saying "you must never, ever, use 'American' instead of 'usian' or 'gringo' or whatever. Some people just feel that 'American' is polysemic and highly contextual (and languagehat notwithstanding, in some contexts it actually doesn't parse as 'US citizen') and choose to use another term that they feel is more specific. Nothing to get panties all bunched up about.
posted by signal at 5:50 PM on September 29, 2007 [1 favorite]


(and languagehat notwithstanding, in some contexts it actually doesn't parse as 'US citizen')

Sure, in some contexts. In others, it does. Context is all.
posted by languagehat at 5:53 PM on September 29, 2007


I say it / yu: ES i: an / (that last a should look like a schwa; damn my lack of formatting skills!). Although I rarely say it unless I'm talking to someone I know I won't get into an argument with. I almost always say "from the United States."

Also, I want to ask: why does it annoy some people so much that some other people occasionally use this term? I mean, I can understand a groan or two, but some people seem genuinely ticked off by this. Why is it so bad?
posted by mosessis at 5:54 PM on September 29, 2007


Might I remind you, languagehat, it is you who called Canadian consideration for the desire of the majority of our Inuit population "spurious." If that wasn't a mark of USian assholism, what is?
posted by five fresh fish at 5:56 PM on September 29, 2007 [1 favorite]


So when Canadians call Americans USians, it's some sort of travesty, but when Americans call us 51st-staters or Canucks or Hosers we're supposed to take it in stride?
posted by tehloki at 6:01 PM on September 29, 2007 [4 favorites]


Nobody is actually saying "you must never, ever, use 'American' instead of 'usian' or 'gringo' or whatever.

Not on Metafilter, yet. In other contexts, usually college campuses, it does happen.

As for forcing conventions on Metafilter, no one is, but most posters seem to be Americans, so that's the way it pans out. It just seems odd for others to get all inelegant and invent "USian", which they certainly aren't using in Mexico, either. (It would be the wrong letters, first of all, and EU would be even more confusing.)

If "American" is offensive to you, use "Yank". It's actually a word that can be spoken and as a real history behind it. Hell, I'd prefer "Seppo".
posted by spaltavian at 6:04 PM on September 29, 2007


languagehat Sure, in some contexts. In others, it does. Context is all.

That's my point exactly. The context of MeFi is certainly not limited to the US, so it's not surprising that some people feel the need to clarify the term.
posted by signal at 6:05 PM on September 29, 2007


Maybe I missed something, but it looked to me like some people have argued that certain people groups are properly called "Inuit" rather than "Eskimo," regardless of traditional usage, because "Inuit" is what those groups prefer. Fair enough.

But citizens of the United States of America are traditionally called Americans, and clearly prefer being called Americans. So the "USian" advocates are saying that there is something that outweighs both traditional usage and the preference of the people themselves. And that thing would be...hypothetical confusion with other nations in the Americas which never happens in reality?

Other languages are free to use whatever term they want. In English, the proper term is "American." Go ahead an type "USian." It's not offense, it's just remarkably silly.
posted by Pater Aletheias at 6:13 PM on September 29, 2007 [9 favorites]


I think signal has a great view of the matter. If USian bothers you, don't use it. If using American on an international message board bothers you, don't use that. Choose whichever adjective you like, or just keep it as a prepositional phrase.

spaltavian, many of my acquaintances in Mexico speak English, too, so I still have this problem when I'm speaking in English to people from Mexico. Also, I am a Southerner by birth, so Yank is right out for me (simply a personal preference, just like USian/American is a personal preference for me). And Pater Aletheias, it's not hypothetical for me. Confusion really has happened, and it really has sometimes caused offense. But that's only my one data point. I'm sure other people have had different experiences.

Speaking of experience, I'm going to head over to the party my neighbours are having tonight. Live banda music and bring your own caguamas and tequila. Should be good.
posted by mosessis at 6:27 PM on September 29, 2007 [1 favorite]


If USian bothers you, don't use it. If using American on an international message board bothers you, don't use that.

I think you're confused. You don't come to Metatalk to discuss what you'd like to do yourself, you come to discuss what you want other people to do.
posted by mullacc at 6:50 PM on September 29, 2007


it may surprise you to learn that many American Eskimos are not Inuit and resent being called by a name that is not theirs. But they should probably just bite the bullet and accept it so you can feel righteous.

My little anecdote was about a UKian visiting Canada and referring to Eskimos in Canada -- and I should have been more careful not to offend your American Languageears?
posted by ~ at 6:53 PM on September 29, 2007


I blame the UKians and the EUians.
posted by furiousxgeorge at 7:41 PM on September 29, 2007


Oy.

I know plenty of Canadians (and to a much lesser extent Brits) who thought of "American" as a laughably parochial/redneck/phony boosterish way of describing US citizens. So much so that around them, I would modify sentences to avoid needing to use an adjective for my nationality. "I'm from the States" was fine to them, where referring to the US as "the States" sounds a little pretentious and fake-British to people who are actually from the US.

God forbid I should say "from America" (the disputed phrase again) or "from the USA" (which sounds like I should have a ripped stars-and-stripes tanktop and '80s hair and be singing on a mountain with my guitar and an eagle).

But among people in the US, the term "American" just by itself evokes no feeling of imperialism or of arrogating a term that properly describes a larger group (no feeling of "they think they're Americans but we're the only ones who really get to use that glorious term"). It's just the plain, totally neutral description of citizenship. Ok, for a lot of people it has various kinds of baggage, but an attempt to withhold the term from other people who live in North or South America is not part of that baggage. For most Americans it just doesn't begin to occur to us that the term could be in any way ambiguous as a descriptor of present-day people. (Maybe in a geologic-plates context or something along those lines, or in describing groups of native people prior to the arrival of European people.) In the US, it only means one thing, "people from the US"; that's not haughtiness or exclusionism, it's just a difference in what the word means.

I'm happy to believe that the word (or its cognates in other languages) means something else, elsewhere. But when you hear someone from the US using it, don't assume they are assholes who cruelly exclude all other North and South Americans from their mental picture of the world. They might well be, but you can't tell just from their calling themselves "American".

There's no other term for our nationality, and Americans don't do the elaborate rearranging of sentences that Canadians (IME) do to avoid ever using any term for the nationality of people from the US. Canadians I have discussed this with say "Oh, it sounds so obnoxious when you say 'that movie is American'; why don't you just say it's from the States?" When I have asked them "Ok, but what term should I use for my nationality? You can say you're Canadian, what can I say?" -- they have honestly not thought before that, in their mental dictionary, there's no non-obnoxious-sounding-to-them term for it.

Related story: I did meet a very nice woman, travelling, about 10 years ago, who was from the Czech Republic who could not understand what I meant when I said "American" -- she thought it meant that I was from somewhere in North or South America. So: there's at least one data point. [Though I'm not sure what to make of it. Her English was barely enough to communicate very, very simple ideas (and my Czech nonexistent), and she was extremely dense (at first I thought it was the language barrier, but no. Drawings, charades, lots of effort and smiles and even pointing to objects directly often failed to produce mutual comprehensibility, over days -- either Czech folks have a radically different conceptual structure than I do, or she was as thick as a brick). Once I gathered that "American" was the wrong term, I tried "North America", "USA", "United States of America", drawing a map of the world and the US, pointing at US flags that flew on a building in town, etc. Not a flicker of recognition. "New York City", "Hollywood", no recognition. Who knows what was going on with her.]
posted by LobsterMitten at 10:03 PM on September 29, 2007 [2 favorites]


LobsterMitten: Who knows what was going on with her.

From your description it sounds like she was playing the venerable game of make-the-yankee-do-silly-things.
posted by Kattullus at 10:27 PM on September 29, 2007 [1 favorite]


Obviously something was wrong. Poor woman. Not a flicker of recognition? Sad really.
posted by stinkycheese at 11:13 PM on September 29, 2007


...EUians...

No, you must have missed my earlier suggestion. It should be EUicans. (pronounced "EUicans", natch.)

Eventually we will be invaded by aliens, and in an effort to identify ourselves, we should fall back on 'Earthicans'.

If for no other reason than Futurama predicted it.

posted by quin at 11:28 PM on September 29, 2007


stinky, you have to admit that it is weird to - apparently - not have heard of this country that I'm talking about.
posted by LobsterMitten at 11:36 PM on September 29, 2007


Yeah, I realize there's no way to tell that story without it sounding like I'm a gallumphing asshole. But, well, I'm not. And I haven't had that kind of experience - that level of total (cultural? conceptual?) disconnect - with anybody else that I've ever met travelling, anywhere. Kattullus, possibly, but what I meant to suggest was that issues pertaining to geography weren't the only ones where she was (apparently) really really off.
posted by LobsterMitten at 11:40 PM on September 29, 2007




"Ok, but what term should I use for my nationality? You can say you're Canadian, what can I say?" -- they have honestly not thought before that, in their mental dictionary, there's no non-obnoxious-sounding-to-them term for it.

Being both Canadian and somewhat of a language enthusiast, the way you put that made me laugh. You are very right.

I think the only way to make everyone happy would be to have U.S. Americans acknowledge that there are people outside of the U.S. who are also Americans. Unfortunately, that will never fly, and it introduces extra ambiguity. Writing for an international audience really ought to, imo, use "United States".

But whatever. It's 2007. It's not going to change after 231 years. Perhaps North and South America should get together and rename themselves. Columbia and Andesia? You could give the 's' in Andesia a nice zh sound, like Rhodesia had.
posted by blacklite at 2:40 AM on September 30, 2007


Another vote for Septic's.
posted by seanyboy at 4:08 AM on September 30, 2007


Won't anybody think about the Eskimo Pies?
posted by SteveInMaine at 6:59 AM on September 30, 2007


five fresh fish: I adapt my level of discourse and politeness to my audience, which in this case was you.

~: I was talking to fff. Pay attention.
posted by languagehat at 7:58 AM on September 30, 2007


Personally, I'm fond of "septics" because only the Brits and Irish get it.

My Aussie friend was fond of describing me and my fellow USians in this way.
posted by Kwine at 10:21 AM on September 30, 2007


Name a country that begins with "U".

Uruguay.
posted by smackfu at 10:27 AM on September 30, 2007


Name a country that begins with "U".

On the other hand, when Roman comedian Laughus Atourselvix tried this survey 2000 years ago, a Centurion lopped off his head on the spot. So we've got that going for the USian empire, anyway.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 10:38 AM on September 30, 2007


blacklite: I think the only way to make everyone happy would be to have U.S. Americans acknowledge that there are people outside of the U.S. who are also Americans.

I'm not sure why this is any kind of compromise. It seems like just having people from the US adopt the word-use choice of people from elsewhere. (Which might be the way to go, but I'm not sure I would call it "making everyone happy".)

Really, the best solution is to treat it as trunk/boot, flashlight/torch, semi/lorry, and other cases where regional English has different names for things. So, people from the US should be aware that "American" might be ambiguous to people from elsewhere, and people from outside the US should be aware that when people from the US use it, they have in mind only one meaning.
posted by LobsterMitten at 11:08 AM on September 30, 2007


Does anyone seriously advocate using the term "gringo" for citizens of that country between Canada and Mexico? To me, it has racial and/or ethnic connotations.
posted by yohko at 11:09 AM on September 30, 2007


languagehat, you described the Canadian use of "Inuit" as spurious before I became involved, and in reference to ~'s comment of Canadian Inuit.

Pray tell, you really don't think it's a little assholish to tell us Canucks that our respect for our Inuit people's desire to not be called "Eskimo" is spurious? Sorry, buddy, but you're clearly in the wrong.
posted by five fresh fish at 11:32 AM on September 30, 2007


lh, I think you're mistaken in several ways and don't understand your rancour.
posted by ~ at 12:10 PM on September 30, 2007


Does anyone seriously advocate using the term "gringo" for citizens of that country between Canada and Mexico?

I was curious about this, so I looked it up. Apparently, if the wiki is to be believed, some do, some don't. It's just as often used to describe non-Americans as it does Americans, and it's hardly ever used derogatorily. From the Wiki under Meaning:
    * The Anglosphere: Hispanic migrants to the USA occasionally use the term as a more derogatory synonym of Anglo, though the word gabacho is often used instead.[7] * Mexico, Central America, the Spanish-speaking Caribbean, South America: In these areas the word may mean specifically a citizen of the United States. In the popular column, "Ask A Mexican" the author states the Mexicans do not refer to North Americans as gringos. The author says that the proper term is gabacho as used by native Mexicans to refer to US citizens.[7] Gabacho is mainly a border-region term, though. * In Central America, the word is not pejorative, merely used to refer to a person from North America. In the Caribbean (especially Cuba and Dominican Republic the term refers to U.S. citizens. In the Dominican Republic it also means a non-free range store bought chicken (pollo gringo).[1] In Puerto Rico, the term refers to American Citizens in the U.S. mainland. * In South America (excluding Venezuela), the word is not pejorative. In some countries it may be used to refer to any foreigner who does not speak Spanish, but in other countries it is used just or especially to refer to U.S. citizens.[citation needed] * In Peru the word gringo is generally often used in the countryside (sierra) for all Europeans and North Americans of white skin. In Lima, gringo is also used to refer to Peruvian white people, not only to U.S citizens. It is not pejorative.[citation needed] * In Brazil the word gringo is used to refer to foreigners from any country, not only the United States.[2]

posted by psmealey at 12:20 PM on September 30, 2007


Sorry, buddy, but you're clearly in the wrong.

Sorry, buddy, but you're clearly in the wrong.

~: What rancor? I was pointing out that you were (over)reacting to something that wasn't even addressed to you. And doing so somewhat snippily, I might add. If you don't like it, don't dish it out.
posted by languagehat at 12:58 PM on September 30, 2007


Gringo threadjack - I've always found it pretty amusing that a bunch of Swedish guys with "non Swedish" family history such as Spanish fathers or second generation immigrants from wherever, decided that they needed a newspaper for their ripe target market of culturally mixed Swedes. They named the newspaper "Gringo".
posted by dabitch at 2:12 PM on September 30, 2007


Isn't gabacho pejorative?
posted by RussHy at 2:27 PM on September 30, 2007


lh's comment was: "What do you have against the word Eskimo?" Yes, I know it's become stigmatized for spurious reasons up in Canada, and Canadians are always tut-tutting because we Americans use that horrible, awful word. I'm just curious to see whether you believe in the false "eaters of raw meat" origin that presumably lies at the root of the stigma.

So, languagehat, supposing that someone didn't believe the "eaters of raw meat" legend, but still thought that native northern Canadians prefer to be called Inuit, why would they be wrong? Do you mean that native northern Canadians: (a) don't really care what they're called, or (b) don't want to be called Inuit, or (c) are divided as to what they prefer to be called? Or that (d) we shouldn't care what they think when we decide what to call them?

I think others here are attributing (d) to you. Is that accurate? If so, why?
posted by LobsterMitten at 2:29 PM on September 30, 2007


I don't personally find "gringo" to be derogatory in reference to people, and sometimes use the term to refer to my own race, usually around other gringos. I wouldn't use it to refer to someone who is Native American or Hispanic.

spaltavian refers to people advocating the use of "gringo". Doesn't sound like a great alternative if the goal is for people to agree on what it means.
posted by yohko at 2:43 PM on September 30, 2007


Languagehat—the loveable old curmudgeon—is wrong here. The correct analogy of Eskimo is Indian. LH, do you feel that it's perfectly okay to use the latter?

I don't. And there's plenty of Aboriginal Americans who are perfectly okay with Indian and use it themselves. But a great many aren't okay with it, and they have reasonable explanations for why they feel that way. I agree with those who dislike the term and I won't use it even when I‘m talking with an “Indian” who does.

As a general rule, which does have some exceptions, one should call people what they prefer to be called. That can be tricky, but it's not that tricky.

The problem with American is the reverse problem. I don't think it's mostly ambiguity because although there are situations where there is ambiguity, we know that's mostly not true here, for example.

The problem is that the US's appropriation of the term then denies it to everyone else who might want to use it in its most expansive sense and including themselves. That's not really fair.

It's mostly not that big of a deal because there really aren't that many people clamoring for the unambiguous use of American to refer to all the people of the Americas and, after all, most have perfectly acceptable self-identifying terms in the particular.

On the other hand, in my opinion it's no big deal for me to choose to use something other than American. I don't make a huge effort to do so because, um, that would be a huge effort and I don't think it's warranted. But when it occurs to me, I use something else. USian or USAian look ugly, but they're no big deal to type. In speech, though, I do agree that there's no alternatives that really are easy to use and sound right.

I don't use it in a derogatory sense. The assumption that I am brings me to stinkycheese's comment:

“Yesterday we had folks swearing up and down that ‘Don't mess with Texas’ means what it originally meant (anti-litter campaign) no matter who uses it and how, because the original meaning was what was important.”

...which is untrue. As the principle person arguing for the benign nature of DMwT, my argument wasn't that it's benign because the original meaning was benign, my argument was that it's benign because it still has that original meaning. Some non-Texans assume that Texans mean something different (and a few do, but the assumption is that most do) and therefore the claim is that it really then does have that obnoxious meaning. But that's silly. That's not convention defining usage, that's saying that miscommunication defines usage, which is nonsensical.

Furthermore, it should be a measure of the reliability of stinkycheese in argument that here I am, the actual person who was yesterday defending DMWT but who is not defending American. His attempt to put words in my mouth failed. And if not me, who? His was a strawman.

In general, I think we should call people what they call themselves. This often means farily poor pronunciation and dodgy phonetic transliteration. But that's still better than picking a new name one is more comfortable with. That's what George Bush does with people he knows. Doesn't that tell you something?

On Preview:

“I don't personally find ‘gringo’ to be derogatory in reference to people, and sometimes use the term to refer to my own race, usually around other gringos.”

When Hispanics use the term gringo, they can intend it to be derogatory or not. Context is key. As anglos in a more privileged cultural position (here in the States), we white folk have the option of being blissfully unconcerned about whether someone is speaking of us derogatorily or not. The “context matters” defense is less acceptable when the speaker defending their speech is in the privileged position and the term is used for someone of an underclass.

Personally, as a native New Mexican, anglo use of gringo seems strained to me. It either seems patronizing or it seems like the use subtly connotes what is for me an uncomfortably high level of awareness of us and them. I've met you in person, and I'm inclined to think otherwise in your case, but I'm just saying how I react to its use by anglos, in general. Anglophones in New Mexico use a great number of Spanish words regularly, usually with some amount of anglicizing of the pronunciation. But most don't use common Spanish slang unless it's already pretty much in the common English vernacular (regionally). The exceptions are anglophones who are fluent in Spanish and speak Spanish and use slang regularly; and people for whom it's a tone-deaf affectation.
posted by Ethereal Bligh at 3:06 PM on September 30, 2007 [1 favorite]


Wow, just when I thought we couldn't over-think a plate of beans to a greater degree than we have already ...
posted by dg at 3:16 PM on September 30, 2007


I think others here are attributing (d) to you. Is that accurate? If so, why?

No, I'm a great believer in calling people what they want to be called. That's why I, unlike Canadians, don't believe in calling Yupik "Eskimo."

The correct analogy of Eskimo is Indian.

Your saying so doesn't make it correct. See above. Do you know any Native Americans who object to being called that and say it does not accurately describe them?

Also, this plate of beans is not what I ordered. Please take it back and send me a steak, medium rare.
posted by languagehat at 3:31 PM on September 30, 2007


lh: you're projecting. In any case, I think either (1) you particularly dislike busybodies who make incorrect corrections to other peoples' word usage, and are too stubborn to acknowledge this is not what's going on here, or (2) hold the interesting opinion that the preference for the name "Inuit" should not be respected, and I would like to hear why.
posted by ~ at 3:32 PM on September 30, 2007


(On preview. Fine.)
posted by ~ at 3:33 PM on September 30, 2007


I find most of us Leftpondians to be prescriptivist, not descriptivist. Ergo hence whatfor!
posted by blue_beetle at 4:13 PM on September 30, 2007


In Chile, "gringo" can refer to USians specifically (and the US itself can be called "gringolandia"), or to white foreigners in general. It's not in itself derogatory.
Also, we are taught that there are 5 continents, America being one of them, with 3 sub-continents "del Norte", "Central" and "del Sur".
posted by signal at 4:55 PM on September 30, 2007 [1 favorite]


The correct analogy of Eskimo is Indian.

In what sense? Eskimo is supposed to come from a Cree word, not a lost European's mistake. Alaskan native peoples seem to be fine with Eskimo, as the BIA seems to be fine with Indian. So if you're saying the two words are analogous because a significant number of people are OK with using those terms to describe themselves while equally significant numbers are not OK, then I agree that your statement has some truth to it.
posted by oneirodynia at 5:20 PM on September 30, 2007


Do you know any Native Americans who object to being called that and say it does not accurately describe them?

I assume "that" means "Indian"?

Either way, my butting in, for what it's worth.

I have worked with Native Americans / Aboriginal Americans / Indians for many years in my work for a Federal agency. My office is located in the same building as a Bureau of Indian Affairs office (note the name of the office), I also work with Indians in the same office, and have done cross-agency business with Indians in other offices. I have not once heard an Indian take offense to the designation, and in fact have never heard an Indian use the term Native American to refer to themself or other Indians. The only thing I've seen as a perhaps more preferred designation is to be called by the tribe name. (Crow, Chippewa, Cheyenne, etc.)

This is only based on my experience, of course, and I have not taken any formal polls. Just an interesting observation, I think. Oh, and when the Indians I have seen refer to themselves as "Indian" it is with pride and strength. They always seem proud of the word.
posted by The Deej at 5:20 PM on September 30, 2007 [1 favorite]


loquacious: many other countries in these (two) continents resent it when we say "America" when we mean "The United States"?

Nope. Bass-ackwards. We don't like it when you use "American" to describe the rest of us. It's perfectly fine and correct to call Americans Americans; it's just, you know, we aren't Americans, so don't call us that, ever. M'kay?
posted by Reggie Digest at 5:30 PM on September 30, 2007


"American" can mean South American, Canadian, Mexican, whatever.

No. No, no, no. No.
posted by Reggie Digest at 5:42 PM on September 30, 2007


That's not convention defining usage, that's saying that miscommunication defines usage, which is nonsensical.

Sadly, perception defines meaning- if you spoke an alien language where "fuq yu" meant hello, and you ran around here yelling "fuq yu!" to everyone, they wouldn't think you were being nice.

Similarly, if everyone thinks "don't mess with Texas" sounds obnoxious, well, it does sound obnoxious. There is no objective way to argue it; connotation is subjective. That's sort of the whole deal. You might be able to embark on a campaign to get people to understand Texans are just being ironic, or funny, or really passionate about recycling, but until you do, people are generally just going to think you're being obnoxious.

Just like it doesn't really matter that "fuq yu" is really hello in EB-moon-language, or whatever. It might help after the fact to explain why you said it, and you would educate some people, but with the general population you'd still have some problems.

many American Eskimos are not Inuit and resent being called by a name that is not theirs.
That's why I, unlike Canadians, don't believe in calling Yupik "Eskimo."

You don't believe in calling Yupik "Eskimo".
Canadians don't generally use the term "Eskimo" at all.
The Yupik, who are native to Alaska, probably don't enter into the picture much, and when they do, I imagine they are called "Yupik", like Inuit are called Inuit.

On what planet do you live where there are Canadians calling Yupik "Eskimo"?

The entire point was that it is not a term we're entirely comfortable using, because the people to whom we were applying the term objected. It is not used. It most especially is not used to refer to the aboriginal people of another country. Why would we use it for the Yupik? Thanks for accusing Canadians of exactly what we don't do.

I suppose you must have meant "I don't believe in calling Yupik 'Inuit,'" but I don't think anyone's done that here, or told you to do that, and simply because the typical Canadian usage is more specific (since Canadians are talking about the people who live in Canada, who are Inuit) certainly gives you no room to extrapolate that we (of course!) must be referring to another related aboriginal group that exists outside of our country that used to be grouped together with Inuit when they were both referred to by a term the Inuit find derogatory.

Anyway, yeah, enjoy your steak.

Reggie: Yes. Read the links.
posted by blacklite at 5:48 PM on September 30, 2007


No. A Canadian is American like an Irishman is British. Which is to say, he isn't, and anyone who insists otherwise gets a complimentary facial restructuring.
posted by Reggie Digest at 5:58 PM on September 30, 2007 [1 favorite]


I dunno. Call me an American (if you're aware that I'm actually from Canada) and I'll punch you right in the nose.

Call me a Canuck or even a Cheesehead, on the other hand, and I might just buy you a beer.

Just don't call me late for a nice bean dinner.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 6:00 PM on September 30, 2007


Whoops. I see Reggie is with me there on the nose-punching. Canadian ex-barfighters unite!
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 6:02 PM on September 30, 2007


Politeness Power!!!
posted by Reggie Digest at 6:07 PM on September 30, 2007


Is that a plate of beans I see?
posted by oxford blue at 6:18 PM on September 30, 2007


“...as the BIA seems to be fine with Indian.”

Using the BIA to justify the acceptability of nomenclature applied to natives is so richly ironic that it would be funny if it weren't so sad. And you're like the third person to do so.

Eskimo is bad because it's like calling all Europeans Germans. Indian is bad because it's like calling Asians Germans. Hell, they're all mostly light-skinned, right? I've got the guns, I get to decide what names I use.

Those Germans in London or Paris or Athens all look the same to me. And when I and the rest of my American brethren occupy the entire continent, displacing those funny Germans from wherever they are, mixing them up (everyone from southern Italy and the Netherlands gets to live in Slovenia! Yay! You're all Germans, right?), killing about three-quarters of those lederhosen drunkards from Oslo to Prague, eventually try to correct some of those (it was a different time then, you have to understand) injustices with some welfare checks paid by the German Affairs Bureau, written to you in your American name at your address on one of the German Reservations in Scotland, well, hell, you might be a bit touchy about this whole German thing by that point.

However, most of your fellow Germans are worried more about finding jobs and staying sober and remembering the very few words in the native language that their dead mothers used to speak to them when they were babies. They've got bigger fish to fry than worry about being called German, they've always been called German and thus I, Mr. Joe Patriotic American, can smugly dismiss the complaints about the use of German by anyone as the mutterings of either bleeding-heart liberals or, you guessed it, a few crazy troublemaking Germans that can always be safely ignored. Failing that, shot.
posted by Ethereal Bligh at 6:53 PM on September 30, 2007 [2 favorites]


So labels are only bad when they're negative. Got it.
posted by smackfu at 7:51 PM on September 30, 2007


Looks like they're only bad when the labeled party protests, unless they are from the USA.
posted by RussHy at 7:54 PM on September 30, 2007


So labels are only bad when they're negative. Got it.
posted by smackfu


That's exactly what I expect someone like you to say!
posted by The Deej at 8:02 PM on September 30, 2007


Ah, boo-hoo, RussHy. As pracowity notes way up thread, plenty here use "Brit" in a way that makes 'em sound like some plastic Paddy in Boston dropping a dollar in the NORAID collecting tin, but who the fuck cares?
posted by Abiezer at 8:08 PM on September 30, 2007


Oh dear, that is an ambiguous judgment, so I cannot judge the judgement.
posted by smackfu at 8:08 PM on September 30, 2007


I'm just saying, is all. That's the impression I got from the comments above. Most of us love the British, who taught everything we know. If you don't like 'Brits' say so. If we don't 'USians' we'll say so. What's wrong with that?
posted by RussHy at 10:10 PM on September 30, 2007


Damn typos!
The British taught us everything we know...
If we don't like USians...
posted by RussHy at 10:24 PM on September 30, 2007


Ah, fair enough; just came came over as a bit like special pleading - "no-one else has to put up with it" sort of thing.
I'm not that bothered by the Brit thing myself (partly because I'm also a plastic Pad, just the grandfolks only made it across the Irish Sea, not the Atlantic). You can usually tell who's using a phrase to be rude, and who's just saying it.
The USian thing is a bit weird to me and looks contrived. I do copy-editing from time to time and might be careful to say USA rather than just America, but never used any other adjective for citizens of the country.
posted by Abiezer at 10:29 PM on September 30, 2007


Oh, tell a lie, I do write "US citizens" sometimes, but obviously, where citizenship is the point, e.g. China charging you more for visas than they do anyone else.
posted by Abiezer at 10:32 PM on September 30, 2007


I don't think "Brits" usually has a negative connotation. It can be used in a sentence that says something negative of course, but I use it all the time (online) just as a neutral shorthand.
posted by LobsterMitten at 11:16 PM on September 30, 2007


Oh, it definitely can have, LobsterMitten, usually in arguments about Ireland and the status of the Six Counties/Northern Ireland. But as you say, I don't think many Americans (or whoever) will have that in mind when they type it here. That's why I say who cares; there's enough offence to be had in the world without seeking it out where none was intended
posted by Abiezer at 11:45 PM on September 30, 2007


I know we've got some Australians in here, and we've heard from assorted islanders. Any Africans? Eurasians? Antarcticans?
posted by flabdablet at 12:27 AM on October 1, 2007


I have not once heard an Indian take offense to the designation, and in fact have never heard an Indian use the term Native American to refer to themself or other Indians.

I know Native Americans who strongly reject the term Indian. When not using actual culture names, Native or Native American are preferred in my region. But, Indian is used in in most of the U.S. so I'm not surprised that you've never heard otherwise.
posted by D.C. at 3:37 AM on October 1, 2007


Us Africans still have an issue with the last 200 years of colonialism, so we don't really care whether what we call Americans are really Americans so long as the dollars keep on rolling through...
posted by rootz at 4:20 AM on October 1, 2007


I assume "that" means "Indian"?

You don't believe in calling Yupik "Eskimo".
Canadians don't generally use the term "Eskimo" at all.


It's not enough I have to be a Mets fan, on top of that I get the benefit of the doubt when I don't need it and not when I do.

*holds head for a moment, recovers*

OK: The Deej, no, "that" meant what it appeared to mean, "Native American." My point was that EB was equating the Eskimo situation with the Indian one, and I was pointing out that the implication of the comparison made no sense. But I agree that in my (limited) experience the alleged outrage at the term "Indian" is greatly exaggerated by PC outsiders. However, being an outsider myself, I'm not going there.

blacklite: Excellent rant, but pointless, because when I wrote "I, unlike Canadians, don't believe in calling Yupik 'Eskimo' I meant "I, unlike Canadians, don't believe in calling Yupik 'Inuit.'" I realize there's no way you could have known that, and I apologize for my failure to copyedit my own comment. Too many ethnic terms floating around, and then there's the Mets-induced despair...

Also, I hope no Canadians take offense at my tweaking them. I love you guys, I really do, with your cute toques and everything, but you're such fun to tweak...
posted by languagehat at 8:11 AM on October 1, 2007


Aboriginal > Native American > Indian. In Canada, at least.

I believe most Canadians would call the Yupik "Alaskans."
posted by five fresh fish at 5:36 PM on October 1, 2007


I like "Indigenous Peoples". It's a nice catch-all.
posted by smackfu at 5:41 PM on October 1, 2007


Yes, but how do you refer to the indigenous Peoples from Punta Arenas to Alaska? American Indigenous Peoples? Indigenous Peoples of the Americas? US and Non-Us American Indigenous Peoples?
posted by signal at 7:01 PM on October 1, 2007


US-ian Indians, of course.
posted by smackfu at 7:22 PM on October 1, 2007


In Washington, we call them the Redskins.
posted by found missing at 7:37 PM on October 1, 2007


I believe most Canadians would call the Yupik "Alaskans."

Very cute, but you don't believe that any more than I do.
posted by languagehat at 6:50 AM on October 2, 2007


especially given that the second largest concetration of "Americans" (not Americanos) already has the handy moniker of "Canadjuns"

Now, calling Canadians "Americans" - that's the way to offend someone.

Canadians never refer to themselves as Americans. Perhaps as North Americans, but in Canada "American"=USian, as we do not speak Spanish. We don't have a collective noun for all of the people of North, Central and South America. I would think of them as (respectively) North Americans, Central Americans and South American, or more likely as Mexicans, Bolivians, Jamaicans, etc.

Though we do avoid saying "America". After I emmigrated to Britain, I really noticed how often the Brits called that country south of the 49th "America", and it made me realise that before moving I had only ever heard Americans called their country "America", and even then usually only in a patriotic moment. In the land of the true north strong and free, we called that other place "The States".
posted by jb at 6:23 PM on October 2, 2007


On the whole Inuit thing: It's clear that the First Nations in Canada who had been known as "Eskimo" have requested to be known collectively as Inuit instead (even if we are mangling the grammar by Anglicising it). It's also equally clear that most of the Aboriginal Americans who are known as "Eskimos" would prefer to be known as Eskimos.

So both countries are doing the politest thing - calling people what they would like to be called. No argument needs to be had, and it would be silly to argue. In Canada, there are Inuit people, and in the United States, there are Eskimos. And, of course, many other native groups who are neither, but all have their own names.
posted by jb at 6:41 PM on October 2, 2007 [1 favorite]


Or, there are Yupik (and other people as well?) but Eskimo is accepted as a polite English term. Whereas in Canada, it is not a polite English term for the people who have said "Please call us Inuit".
posted by jb at 6:53 PM on October 2, 2007


Well said, jb. I entirely agree.
posted by languagehat at 5:59 AM on October 3, 2007


I find that if you just call them "ingenious people" by accident you're more or less off the hook.
posted by cortex (staff) at 7:42 AM on October 3, 2007


very indigenous of you cortez
posted by Catfry at 4:48 PM on October 3, 2007


What? Cortex is indigent? Damn, Matt, can't you pay that boy a little better?
posted by flapjax at midnite at 5:57 PM on October 3, 2007


He's not of an indulgent people, man.
posted by cortex (staff) at 5:59 PM on October 3, 2007


The ingenious indigenous Inuits are not indulgent indigents.
posted by grouse at 6:09 PM on October 3, 2007


Yeah, I heard Ellen DeGeneres say that once...
posted by flapjax at midnite at 6:12 PM on October 3, 2007


NOT DEGENERIST
posted by grouse at 6:29 PM on October 3, 2007


Indulging degenerate indigenous indigents generates ingenious but ingenuine genuflecting, said DeGeneres.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 8:48 PM on October 3, 2007 [1 favorite]


Genau.
posted by cortex (staff) at 10:47 PM on October 3, 2007


Genug.
posted by languagehat at 5:42 AM on October 4, 2007


够了!
posted by Abiezer at 5:58 AM on October 4, 2007


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