Use of the "we" when referring to the United States February 28, 2014 4:56 PM   Subscribe

Since not everyone is USian, I think it would be a good idea for people to refrain when possible from using "we" when discussing the people of the United States. This especially rankles when discussing military action, as in "we should drop a nuclear weapon," as even fellow citizens may not want to be included in that "we".

I realize 99.99% of MeFites don't mean to be overtly American and it's just how people speak, but I think it would make things more civil if "we" wasn't used as often. Apologies if this has been brought up in MeTa before; I tried searching for past discussions on this but "we" being so common it was hard.
posted by cell divide to Etiquette/Policy at 4:56 PM (652 comments total) 4 users marked this as a favorite

I agree with the part about not assuming everyone is from the U.S.

This especially rankles when discussing military action, as in "we should drop a nuclear weapon," as even fellow citizens may not want to be included in that "we".

Well there's no real solution to this particular problem, because even in referring to the nation rather than "we" you don't avoid the problem that "fellow citizens may not want to be included in that [group of people]." You'd have a similar problem limiting it to the government, administration, military or what have you. This bit of fuzziness in communication you'll just have to live with.

Also, you'll find that the term "USian" annoys and rankles people. Many of us citizens of the U.S. would prefer that you not use it.
posted by Jahaza at 5:00 PM on February 28, 2014 [61 favorites]


I'm all for a little more mindfulness on this kind of thing.

I also think this thread will probably go better if we can avoid having a re-hash of the "American" vs "USian" debate.
posted by LobsterMitten (staff) at 5:02 PM on February 28, 2014 [9 favorites]


It's American. You may not like that, but since we're all for self-assignment here on MetaFilter, you'll have to live with it.

We like it that way.
posted by JohnLewis at 5:05 PM on February 28, 2014 [30 favorites]


Sorry, LobsterMitten, should have just ignored it... but it was like one of those posts that points out a typo that contains a typo...
posted by Jahaza at 5:07 PM on February 28, 2014 [2 favorites]


I also think this thread will probably go better if we can avoid having a re-hash of the "American" vs "USian" debate.

So, it's cool to discuss being mindful about language, except for that language, because then it will probably not go well. So, some language.
posted by kbanas at 5:09 PM on February 28, 2014 [20 favorites]


Yeah I feel as if the usage you're highlighting doesn't make me (a Canadian) feel lumped-in as American. If I'm talking about lawyers, or gamers, or bikers, I would use "we" to show that I'm including myself in the group. Hopefully my writing would be clear enough to show that I'm talking about such a group, not Mefites.

Now, the policy of not assuming Mefites are American is definitely a good idea. Maybe I'm just confused by your use of an ..imperative? No. The "should", whatever that is. If you're talking policy, "we should" is pretty accurate. Not perfectly precise, but the context should clear that up, hopefully.
posted by Lemurrhea at 5:12 PM on February 28, 2014 [5 favorites]


kbanas, my sense of that term is, we've had debates over it over the years, which always go the same, and occasionally (much more rarely than in the past IMO) people still bring it out, but it has the potential to be a big distraction from the poster's actual point here.
posted by LobsterMitten (staff) at 5:15 PM on February 28, 2014 [1 favorite]


kbanas: "So, it's cool to discuss being mindful about language, except for that language, because then it will probably not go well. So, some language."

The mindfulness and the re-hashing are kind of opposites, in this case.
posted by desuetude at 5:25 PM on February 28, 2014 [1 favorite]


I don't know. I would venture to guess that cell divide knew how Americans feel about that language. I don't know why he/she should get a pass on how he/she framed the issue when the post is precisely about framing.

It's inflammatory language, that happens to also be idiotic and without a real understanding of geopolitics at the same time that it claims some sort of righteousness. It's like complaining that the French call themselves by the same name as their language when other people in the world also speak that language.
posted by JohnLewis at 5:26 PM on February 28, 2014 [35 favorites]


I dont know. to the person saying "we should," the "we" is accurate (to their opinion, anyway) of the "we" of the nationality, the same as when a sports player is saying "we should play better defense" he or she isn't intimating everyone on SportsCenter are Jets players/fans, but a specific "we" to which they are a part of.

Let alone the fact that when referring to the sentiment of an entire country, "we" will always be incorrect in the comprehensive sense.

But, also in a sense, you have a point, so Oui.
posted by Debaser626 at 5:26 PM on February 28, 2014


How do you know they mean "we" (including you) and not "we" (including others in my group, but not necessarily you)? It's just a quirk of English.
posted by spaltavian at 5:27 PM on February 28, 2014 [12 favorites]


How is it uncivil? Most times I've seen it used this way is when one person is responding to another, both of whom are from the United States. It's perfectly appropriate to use it in that manner.

I think the USian and "we" are the same issue. One annoys people from the US. One annoys people from outside the US. How about we all just give everyone the benefit of the doubt and not think that we are being purposefully uncivil?
posted by Roger Dodger at 5:28 PM on February 28, 2014 [6 favorites]


Roger Dodger: "How about we all just give everyone the benefit of the doubt and not think that we are being purposefully uncivil?"

What do you mean, "we"?

Not uncivil, but inadvertantly ignorant or unthinking.
posted by Pinback at 5:31 PM on February 28, 2014 [3 favorites]


No results found for site:metafilter.com "we should drop a nuclear weapon".

Huh. How about that.
posted by inigo2 at 5:34 PM on February 28, 2014 [19 favorites]


The US constitution starts with "We the People of the United States". It's been drilled into US students' heads ever since 5th grade.

And my "we" means "We the People of MetaFilter, in order to form a more perfect weblog, do ordain to cut everyone some slack, and be excellent to each other"
posted by Roger Dodger at 5:36 PM on February 28, 2014 [42 favorites]


We are all USians. All of us.
posted by planetesimal at 5:46 PM on February 28, 2014 [6 favorites]


Nobody can call me anything but my username or include me in any collective "we" without my prior written permission.

Seriously? You aren't going to be able to legislate this.
posted by spitbull at 5:48 PM on February 28, 2014


Some clarifications...

No results found for site:metafilter.com "we should drop a nuclear weapon".

I purposely used something that hasn't been said because I'm not trying to call out any one person. I'm sure in several current threads you can find people using "we" when they are discussing possible military action the United States could or should possibly take.

USian
I sincerely had no idea this was a loaded term. I was trying to avoid using "American" since I've had other North Americans chide me in the past for using that as a blanket term for people from the U.S.A. I apologize for using that term, it's one I've only seen online and didn't realize it was in any way offensive! I actually thought it would be a sort of fun term to use since it has "Us" in it.

And my "we" means "We the People of MetaFilter

This is my point. I look at the group discussions here being really about us, as a group, trying to understand something. It reminds me of college discussion groups, and in those (usually international) groups if someone used "we" to mean the United States Government, as in "we should do this thing," undoubtedly the others in the group would say, what do you mean, "we"?

The default "we" in geopolitical discussions is only American. If a Canadian came into some discussion and said "we should just annex Alaska", the reply would be "we already own Alaska!". I find that to be somewhat problematic for a truly international site. 1/3 of the traffic here, if not membership, is from outside the U.S.A.
posted by cell divide at 5:50 PM on February 28, 2014 [8 favorites]


insert tonto joke
posted by klangklangston at 5:55 PM on February 28, 2014 [23 favorites]


I also think this thread will probably go better if we can avoid having a re-hash of the "American" vs "USian" debate.

While I doubt there is any clarity to be had in the same old/same old back and forth about "USian," it is worth noting that the term comes from the same place as the complaint about "we" in this post. It's a discomfort with American appropriation of language -- that we have taken the name of the entire Americas for ourselves, and that in discussions we use "we" not universally, but rather with a default assumption that the attention belongs on us.

Now, personally I think people who use the term "USian" should be made to atone for their grievous sin against the English language, but I don't see any way to enforce that here, so I just try to read over it.
posted by Dip Flash at 5:56 PM on February 28, 2014 [8 favorites]


Seriously? You aren't going to be able to legislate this.

Don't remember asking for a law, just raising awareness. I'm sure I'm guilty of the very thing I'm now raising awareness about! I just think it would improve the site if people were more mindful that a pretty high % of users are not citizens of the United States of America.
posted by cell divide at 5:59 PM on February 28, 2014 [2 favorites]


The thing is, who comprises "we" is context dependent — saying "we" doesn't mean that you're speaking for all of MeFi, unless the context makes that clear — and only means that it's a group to which the speaker belongs.

"The default "we" in geopolitical discussions is only American. If a Canadian came into some discussion and said "we should just annex Alaska", the reply would be "we already own Alaska!". I find that to be somewhat problematic for a truly international site. 1/3 of the traffic here, if not membership, is from outside the U.S.A."

No, it wouldn't. Because the U.S. can't annex Alaska, we (the general readers of MeFi) would assume that the speaker of that sentence wasn't American, and was likely Canadian or Russian. I mean, I can imagine some droll waggery about whether Alaska is really America, hence annexation, but that's a minor exception and still wouldn't support your point.
posted by klangklangston at 6:02 PM on February 28, 2014 [12 favorites]


"insert tonto joke"

Believe me, I almost did. Then I realised this is Metafilter, and I'd be killed when the inevitable plate of beans was thrown at me…
posted by Pinback at 6:02 PM on February 28, 2014 [2 favorites]


Maintaining a global perspective is useful, but it's worth pointing out that there are a lot of examples where we use a plural pronoun but are really talking about ourselves.
posted by anifinder at 6:02 PM on February 28, 2014


insert tonto joke

I first read that as "Toronto joke."
posted by Melismata at 6:09 PM on February 28, 2014 [21 favorites]


We've thought about it and decided this a good idea to keep us separated from them.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 6:14 PM on February 28, 2014 [4 favorites]


I only use "we" with other homunculi, regardless of nationality.
posted by homunculus at 6:22 PM on February 28, 2014 [10 favorites]


"I think that the United States of America, a country which I am a citizen of, should drop a nuclear explosive device."

ok, need a greasemonkey script to translate 'we' -> 'I think that the United States of America, ...'
posted by nightwood at 6:27 PM on February 28, 2014 [3 favorites]


"I think the US should drop a nuke" flows a little better. Or, "I think we (US) should nuke 'em," if you prefer a parenthetical. Not assuming a default "we" is a fine thing to ask for and not actually that hard to word - remembering to do so is the more difficult part, for me.
posted by rtha at 6:30 PM on February 28, 2014 [2 favorites]


I find the "we" thing slightly irritating, but what else can you expect on an American site?

I do wish the constant "American exceptionalism" about all things was dialed down on MetaFilter (or at least other viewpoints were given more consideration), but once again, that's a tough battle to fight.
posted by KokuRyu at 6:35 PM on February 28, 2014 [20 favorites]


"We are going out to have a beer."

"Sam, Joe, Alex, Robert, Nancy, Jane, Bobbi, Lucy, Veronica and I, being a subset of the 19 people who work in this department, that being a subset of the 178 people who work for this company are going out for a beer after work. You are not going because I asked you as a representative of the aforementioned subgroup and you said that you had other plans."

It really is possible to be overly specific in casual conversation.
posted by double block and bleed at 6:40 PM on February 28, 2014 [13 favorites]


No results found for site:metafilter.com "we should drop a nuclear weapon".

Doesn't surprise me. People who like to get into the nitty gritties of winning wars can become immediately more in-the-moment passionate and creative with language; it's "make coon cheese" of "that motherfuckin' airfield" with stipulations on whatever "huge-ass" weapon-specifications and ranges they've committed to memory. It's amazing reading: cartoonish without the drawings. On Metafilter, you're far more likely to read a subdued 'we should never drop a nuclear weapon' from someone who does not get lost in military jargon or solutions.

How do you know they mean "we" (including you) and not "we" (including others in my group, but not necessarily you)? It's just a quirk of English.

Yes, except we've now come to call out that quirk as, at times, othering. Humans are exceptionally good at discerning word intension (especially in their acquired language).
posted by de at 6:43 PM on February 28, 2014 [1 favorite]


Just to make it clear...If I ever say "we" here, I mean me and the dog.
posted by HuronBob at 6:43 PM on February 28, 2014 [8 favorites]


I apologize for using that term, it's one I've only seen online and didn't realize it was in any way offensive!

It's not that it's offensive. I'm an American; I'm not offended by it. I can criticize a term used to described a group of people without being offended as a member of that group. I'm critical of it because I find it awkward and overly self-conscious, with a subtext of: look at me, I'm using a different word than most people would use — see how aware I am of how there are many other Americas and the US isn't the center of the world?
posted by John Cohen at 6:49 PM on February 28, 2014 [25 favorites]


I wouldn't have a problem with a Canadian mefite saying, "We should annex Alaska!" or what-have-you, because it would presumably be clear from context that they are talking about "the We that includes Me and Canada" and not "the We that includes Everyone In This Conversation."

Like when I am talking to my friends, and I say, "We got married in 2008!" it seems pretty clear that I'm not talking about "Me and y'all that I'm speaking with" but rather "me and my husband."
posted by muddgirl at 7:04 PM on February 28, 2014 [10 favorites]


I don't find USian offensive, either; I just find it clangingly uneuphonious, with a side of self-congratulatory. When people feel the need to avoid saying "American" when meaning "U.S. citizens" or "U.S. residents," the terms "U.S. citizens" or "U.S. residents" are unambiguous and, as bonus, rarely if ever cause a derail.

And I frequently don't say "we" regarding the U.S. government or U.S. foreign policy, because even as a U.S. citizen I am frequently at odds with them.
posted by scody at 7:05 PM on February 28, 2014 [33 favorites]


"I first read that as "Toronto joke.""

When Torontonians say "We," they mean all of Canada. Aww, who am I kidding, Torontonians don't know there's any Canada outside of Toronto.
posted by klangklangston at 7:09 PM on February 28, 2014 [7 favorites]


"USian" is just annoying internet slang. If you are going to use it, why not also communicate in LOLS and happy faces?
posted by KokuRyu at 7:09 PM on February 28, 2014 [11 favorites]


We should totally nuke Reddit.
posted by The Riker Who Mounts the World at 7:09 PM on February 28, 2014 [32 favorites]


I know the OP wasn't meaning to call out anyone specifically here, but if you could point to a couple of threads where this type of "we"ing was a problem, just as illustrations, it would help. For instance, if it's in a thread specifically focused on some U.S. govtal. action or contemplated action or something, then it seems like the natural thing where people in the U.S. might use "we" while people outside the U.S. might say "you" or "they" or something without thinking much about it even though those usages aren't very precise.
posted by FelliniBlank at 7:11 PM on February 28, 2014


Huronbob, the other half of your "we" does look like an excellent decision maker!
posted by bquarters at 7:11 PM on February 28, 2014 [1 favorite]


"Believe me, I almost did. Then I realised this is Metafilter, and I'd be killed when the inevitable plate of beans was thrown at me…"

I like to think of it as part of the tradition of the canny minority outsmarting the pompous white man, which is both noble and long-standing.
posted by klangklangston at 7:13 PM on February 28, 2014 [3 favorites]


Yeah, I'm confused by this. If I say "we" referring to my country or my employer or my family, that makes sense to me as I am a member of that unit. Referring to a group I am part of in the third person feels strange. I don't see how using "we" implies anything about anyone else on the site, it just implies membership in the group in question by the speaker.
posted by wildcrdj at 7:13 PM on February 28, 2014 [6 favorites]


tonto joke.

sorry, couldn't resist
posted by dhruva at 7:25 PM on February 28, 2014 [1 favorite]


I look at the group discussions here being really about us, as a group, trying to understand something. It reminds me of college discussion groups, and in those (usually international) groups if someone used "we" to mean the United States Government, as in "we should do this thing," undoubtedly the others in the group would say, what do you mean, "we"?

I have these discussions nearly every day right now in grad school and in my experience, no, they wouldn't.

In my experience, if you use "we," it's understood that you're referring to a group to which you yourself belong. English doesn't have a way to grammatically specify whether everyone (or anyone) that you're addressing is likewise a member of your group or not, so there's not a built-in assumption that they are or that they aren't.

Speaking about yourself in the third person (whether singular or plural) is strange and confusing, I think, and not a viable alternative. The grammatically correct pronoun to use in this context really is first person plural; you're a member of your nation, but you're not the sole member of your nation.

I realize 99.99% of MeFites don't mean to be overtly American and it's just how people speak

When I say "we" to refer to the American people or to the US as an aggregate it isn't just "the way [I] speak"; it has meaning. It means I'm part of my country. That has profound importance to me, guides my life in many ways, and is the result of conscious, purposeful decisions. All of that is reflected in my use of "we," and I plan to continue using it. When I do, I'm not making the assumption that everyone else is American, I'm telling you that I am.
posted by rue72 at 7:35 PM on February 28, 2014 [4 favorites]


rue72, i don't think the complaint was that people shouldn't feel "part of their country" or refer to themselves as part of a collective as you do, but rather that on a website that draws users from all over the world, it can be confusing when people say "we should do x" if the context is lacking to explain who the "we" is in that sentence.

i think the OP's complaint was that there was a tacit assumption that "we" meant "Americans", even absent that context. Sitting around in a bar with people you know to be in the same group as you it makes sense to say "we" without adding in that context orally - when you're not sure of the origins of the people you are talking with, particularly through the medium of text, when all visual identifiers/accents/styles of dress are absent, "we" doesn't really make as much sense, unless you provide the context. Unless I am misunderstanding, the OP wouldn't have a problem with you saying "As an American, I think we should..." or something along those lines.
posted by modernnomad at 7:47 PM on February 28, 2014 [3 favorites]


at the end of the movie "gorky park", there's a scene where the female interest (hot chick?) tries to persuade the hero to run away to western europe with her. he tells her...

"i'm a russian. i couldn't possibly be anything else."

that's how i feel about being an american. if this ship goes down, i'm going down with it. nobody IRL has ever had the temerity to address me as a(n?) "USian", and it would NOT BE WELL RECEIVED.
posted by bruce at 7:53 PM on February 28, 2014 [5 favorites]


When I say "we" to refer to the American people or to the US as an aggregate

When you say "we" and I don't know who you are, one of the things I don't know is your citizenship or nationality.
posted by rtha at 7:56 PM on February 28, 2014 [13 favorites]


When you say "we" and I don't know who you are, one of the thing I don't know is your citizenship or nationality.

If someone's intended meaning isn't clear from context, then others can ask clarifying questions. But then how woulf the OP know that this hypothetical person meant "America should drop a nuclear weapon" and not "France should drop a nuclear weapon"? It can't really be both ways.
posted by muddgirl at 7:59 PM on February 28, 2014 [4 favorites]


When I say "we", I'm referring to werewolves. AMERICAN werewolves.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 8:00 PM on February 28, 2014 [32 favorites]


Maybe I should have used Britain as an example, since IIRC disproportionate number of Mefites are from the UK as well.
posted by muddgirl at 8:04 PM on February 28, 2014


On days when things like this are irking me, I like to metaphorically rip open my polyester blouse from Best and Less to reveal a singlet in the ugliest shade of green, transferred upon which is a bad cartoon koala holding a beer, and proclaim 'As an Australian ....' because that annoys pretty much everyone.
posted by h00py at 8:07 PM on February 28, 2014 [14 favorites]


Yahbutt Brandon what if someone thinks you mean the werewolves of London?
posted by rtha at 8:20 PM on February 28, 2014 [3 favorites]


Werewolves can't afford London, duh.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 8:24 PM on February 28, 2014 [4 favorites]


Everyone knows all our werewolves were eaten by the fatberg.

Circle of life.
posted by emmtee at 8:32 PM on February 28, 2014 [1 favorite]


Where wolf?
posted by Room 641-A at 8:35 PM on February 28, 2014


dhruva: "tonto joke."

Actually, I meant this Tonto joke.

(c.f.)
posted by Pinback at 8:40 PM on February 28, 2014 [2 favorites]


that's how i feel about being an american. if this ship goes down, i'm going down with it. nobody IRL has ever had the temerity to address me as a(n?) "USian", and it would NOT BE WELL RECEIVED.

Go home, Springsteen. You're drunk.
posted by Miko at 8:45 PM on February 28, 2014 [41 favorites]


Aww, who am I kidding, Torontonians don't know there's any Canada outside of Toronto.

Nah, that's not fair. We accept the Canadianness of Banff, Whistler, wherever Santa Claus lives, the bits of Montreal where we don't have to speak French, and all of the NHL arenas outside of Tampa Bay.
posted by jacquilynne at 9:05 PM on February 28, 2014 [22 favorites]


i am not bruce springsteen. i am not bruce schneier either, just one of the other less famous but still functioning bruces. the last time i saw "miko" anywhere other than metafilter, it was in an eric van lustbader novel involving a sexy magic lady ninja. with this in mind, how much do you want to play the name game against me?
posted by bruce at 9:06 PM on February 28, 2014 [1 favorite]


Let's not get into a weird interpersonal thing; light goofing on Americans, Toronto, werewolves seem like a more fun way to spend the night.
posted by LobsterMitten (staff) at 9:11 PM on February 28, 2014 [6 favorites]


So is MetaTalk now just Tumblr?
posted by Ideefixe at 9:23 PM on February 28, 2014 [1 favorite]


So is MetaTalk now just Tumblr?

MetaTalk was Tumblr before Tumblr was Tumblr. We're all special snowflakes here.
posted by killdevil at 9:30 PM on February 28, 2014 [2 favorites]


So is MetaTalk now just Tumblr?

MetaTlk
posted by A Bad Catholic at 9:30 PM on February 28, 2014 [3 favorites]


MetaFilter: we should stop using "we" so much
posted by killdevil at 9:37 PM on February 28, 2014 [3 favorites]


Brandon, surely you mean American Wolves?

Not to pile on, or start something, but yeah, this bugs me: Given the number of threads we've had about language, and about using the terminology people they'd like to be called by, why is USian still okay? Many, many people have said it's something that really bothers them, that they strenuously dislike. Other people continue to say "I'll call you whatever I like" which wouldn't fly in any of the other discussions about naming and terminology.
posted by Ghidorah at 9:40 PM on February 28, 2014 [7 favorites]


The default "we" in geopolitical discussions is only American. If a Canadian came into some discussion and said "we should just annex Alaska", the reply would be "we already own Alaska!". I find that to be somewhat problematic for a truly international site.

I 100% agree that for most people the default is "American" (i.e., with no evidence to the contrary, most posters are American and will assume their fellow poster is American), but in threads about politics or history I seem to recall people from non-US countries jumping right in with a "we should confront the problem this way" or "we should've taken this action" or "what were we thinking," where it becomes clear usually fairly quickly through context that the person in question is not American. So, I'm not sure that the use of "we" is specific to American posters, despite their majority. I think it's just a common way to start a bit of political/historical opining.
posted by stoneandstar at 9:41 PM on February 28, 2014 [3 favorites]


Also the OP already explained his/her use of "USian" and apologized, so I don't really think we need to keep calling it out! Thank you, OP!
posted by stoneandstar at 9:41 PM on February 28, 2014 [6 favorites]


Huh. Guess I'm just a United Nations kind of guy, because I tend to interpret context-less "we should do something [to country or similar who is behaving badly]" to mean "we (all the rest of the countries or similar in the world who are watching this happen but are not directly involved.)"
posted by davejay at 9:43 PM on February 28, 2014 [16 favorites]


i think the OP's complaint was that there was a tacit assumption that "we" meant "Americans", even absent that context.

If I say "we," I'm including myself in a certain group, but there's no (grammatical) assumption that the people I'm addressing are also members of that group. That's why it makes sense if you show a friend your engagement ring and say "we're getting married!" (as someone mentioned, up-thread). So when I use "we" to refer to the US/Americans, I'm conveying the information that *I* am an American, but not that everyone I'm addressing is American.

If I use "we" and it's unclear what group I'm referring to, I'm being (needlessly) confusing, but that still doesn't convey an assumption on my part that the people I'm addressing are fellow group members (or not). If it did convey that assumption, someone saying, "we're going out after work!" wouldn't result in that "wait, am I invited, too?" awkwardness.

I get that some people are wary of others assuming they're American, and maybe there is a tacit assumption that everyone on Metafilter is American. However, Americans using "we" to refer to the US/Americans isn't an example of people giving voice to that assumption; "we" fails to specify/communicate who is in the group aside from the speaker, or even how large the group is aside from it numbering somewhere between two and infinity.

If the problem is that there's a tacit assumption that everyone on Metafilter is American, then that problem will require a different solution. Changing Americans' pronoun use isn't going to be an effective solution because it doesn't address the problem.

I don't mean to be difficult; I would ordinarily just abide by the other person's preference out of politeness regardless of why they have that preference. However, in this case, I'm a member of the group under discussion, my membership in that group is important to me, and my language is consciously chosen to reflect my values.

Also, NTS:
Endless/Overdue Econ Prob. Set : Bartleby the Scrivener : Me ::
Full Moon : Werewolf : Human
posted by rue72 at 9:44 PM on February 28, 2014 [8 favorites]


I tend to interpret context-less "we..." to mean "we (all the rest of the countries or similar in the world who are watching this happen but are not directly involved.)"

Totally agree. I tend to use "we" to mean "we, the great human family" or "we, MetaFilter" - have even been called out for it from people who don't want to be included in my version of "great human family." "We" is super general. Very, very rarely does it mean "we, the US." And usually, that's in threads about, like, US history, where the natural referent, problemative though it definitely is, is just "we."
posted by Miko at 9:49 PM on February 28, 2014 [2 favorites]


"We" should pull the stick out of our collective ass already.
posted by five fresh fish at 10:46 PM on February 28, 2014 [6 favorites]


If I say "we," I'm including myself in a certain group, but there's no (grammatical) assumption that the people I'm addressing are also members of that group. That's why it makes sense if you show a friend your engagement ring and say "we're getting married!" (as someone mentioned, up-thread). So when I use "we" to refer to the US/Americans, I'm conveying the information that *I* am an American, but not that everyone I'm addressing is American.

This makes no sense. Showing the engagement ring is the indicator of the context within the statement "we are getting married." But in a text-based interaction with pseudonymous users scattered around the globe, there is no context other than what you type. So if you want to convey that you are an American, you need to do that in a more effective way than just saying "we should do this." Because unless I already know you are American, you still haven't identified the group to which you belong when you say "we".

It's not really any different than AskMe questions where people say things like "What's the law about XYZ"? We can assume that they are probably talking about the US, but it's a whole lot easier if people use their words to be more clear, and there's a bullet point in the FAQ asking them to be more clear.

I don't really think this is a massive problem on MeFi, as it really it just reflects the privileged position that Americans (and native English speakers generally) hold on the Internet more broadly. We talk a lot on MeFi about 'listening' to less dominant groups and hearing their complaints, even if you don't fully understand them. In this particular context, Americans are the dominant group that is often treated as the 'default' online (how often do you see a .us 'regional' domain name?) generally and on MeFi specifically. Which is fine to a certain extent - it's an American hosted site run by an American and most of the mods and users are American. But hey, listening to others and reflecting on what they are saying never goes out of style.
posted by modernnomad at 10:52 PM on February 28, 2014 [4 favorites]


Whilst I'm am the first to agree that for a community that typically has a lot of sensitivity around gender and racial issues, there is a pervasive and seemingly intractable ethnocentrism here, I prefer to deal with it on a case by case basis, which I find is easier to engage with in a substantive and critical way. I don't know that general imprecations have much value; those most in need of them are most likely to ignore or bristle at them.

This is clearly a reference to the Ukraine thread, I think some of the more facile armchair comments have been dealt with pretty thoroughly in thread. Regarding your general complaint, it's like pushing water uphill, friend, I wouldn't get too fazed about it.
posted by smoke at 11:55 PM on February 28, 2014 [6 favorites]


I think assumptions of in-group uniformity like this are really common. It's nice when everyone in our group agrees with us because we are right, and that can easily translate itself into unspoken assumptions.

What fascinates me in particular is how this played out in this thread in regards to the term "USian", where universal statements were made about citizens of the United States about our presumed-universal opinion of the term and it's crimes against the English Language.

I'm an USan, and I've used the term to refer to myself for a long time (pre-Tumblr, even), even offline where I might get punched, because when someone pointed out how inaccurate "American" was and how it played into assumptions of US dominance of North and South America, it opened my eyes to something I hadn't see before and I couldn't not change my language in response to that. There is a long history of the US laying claim to both American continents and doing really, really, really horrible things in the name of defending that claimed turf even when the people who live there would really rather we stop interfering with their governments and economies.

The use of American to refer to the citizens of one country which holds military/economic dominance over many other countries that could lay claim to the same term is a way of unmarking, or rendering invisible to critique, that relationship between USans and other Americans. The process of marking a formerly unmarked group is always fraught, in particular because the unmarked group almost always objects - being unmarked is a uniquely protected state because when we can't name things it is significantly more difficult to think about and communicate about them. By differentiating between USans and all Americans, a more accurate reality where we share continents but there are imbalances of power can be more easily discussed and is implicit in the discussion even when it isn't the topic at hand.

In-group uniformity can also play into rhetorical defenses by simply disregarding anyone who would disagree with belief in question, or by dismissing them in a variety of ways (usually through implying the language change is an affectation without any thought behind it, or that the new word itself is insulting in some manner).

It's a really interesting juxtaposition of something being objected to and then played out almost immediately in the comments following the objection.
posted by Deoridhe at 12:04 AM on March 1, 2014 [11 favorites]


Related gripe: sometimes I see an AskMe question that omits the location and cultural context necessary to garner helpful answers. These questions are most often asked by Americans who don't identify themselves as such, perhaps because it doesn't occur to them that the community includes a significant number of people from other nationalities and cultures. I mean, no biggie, but this is a bit discourteous to the answerers, and personally it really burns my frog.
posted by EXISTENZ IS PAUSED at 2:00 AM on March 1, 2014 [15 favorites]


1. The USA is the only country in the world with "America" actually in the name. Calling its own citizens "Americans" makes sense.

2. USian is short for "United Statesian". Mexico is a United States as well (officially Estados Unidos Mexicanos). Are Mexicans also USians? Or are they EUians? Are British people UKians?

3. There are ready-made terms to refer to geographical groups of citizens in the Western Hemisphere, such as "North Americans" and "South Americans." They are two separate continents. Trying to call everybody from the Western Hemisphere "Americans" is like referring to everybody from Ireland to Japan "Eurasians" - not very useful on a day-to-day basis.

Someone suggested a while back adopting "Americano" for everybody in North and South America, which I like a lot. :)
posted by Celsius1414 at 2:15 AM on March 1, 2014 [56 favorites]


Usually 'we' is discernable from the context, but the most recent Ukraine one is an example where it's not always clear. For me though in that thread, it's more that is not always clear if we are meant to be the USA, NATO, The West or something else, rather than a blanket assumption we're all American here. A bit if clarity would be great, so I can work out where Britain fits in your armchair strategising. Cheers!
posted by Helga-woo at 2:33 AM on March 1, 2014 [1 favorite]


Someone suggested a while back adopting "Americano" for everybody in North and South America, which I like a lot. :)

Unless you're in a coffee shop line, where it can get you mixed with a shot of espresso....

I'm on the fence about this MeTa. On one hand, I pretty much assume that anyone using "USian" on MetaFilter after all the MeTas about it is a jerk whose opinions, questions, and interactions are unlikely to be worth my time (much like the other aggressive misreferencers on the site).

On another hand, I'm aware of the problem and the confusion it can create, so I try to preface my statements that are US-centric with "in America" or "in the US" or "in this particular state." It saves time clarifying later.

On yet another hand, I'm also aware of the overlapping layers of "ingroupness" going on within each MeFite, and I try to read comments with that in mind, since it's easy to elide those groups.

As pointed out above, this is a huge problem in AskMe, since a lot of the questions can't be even tentatively answered unless you know the asker's city.
posted by GenjiandProust at 2:50 AM on March 1, 2014 [5 favorites]


I think the OP makes a fair point. I will try to keep it in mind.

(Count me with those who loathe USAian. I don't agree with the objections to American. This usage predates US imperialist activity in other parts of the Americas and does seem to stem from the lack of a good single-word alternative. Regardless, perhaps find some other work-around if you are avoiding the word. US citizen, US resident, people in the US, etc. If you do use USAian, do so knowing it angers or annoys many MeFites from the US. It is not how the vast majority of us refer to ourselves, and at MetaFilter that's usually the criteria we use.)
posted by Area Man at 3:03 AM on March 1, 2014 [2 favorites]


Glad to see the Usonians have decided the issue for everybody.

(No, it's not just a FLW architectural concept - it's older than that...)
posted by Pinback at 3:18 AM on March 1, 2014 [1 favorite]


Wait, so people are *offended* by USian? Like as if t was a slur?

That's sad.

Also, "America" represents an imperialism that predates the birth of the US.

I will choose to keep using USian whenever I feel like it. I utterly refuse to concede that this is yet another sensitive ethnonym. US is not an ethnicity, nor is American. USian is not a slur. It's a disambiguation of chauvinism.
posted by spitbull at 3:56 AM on March 1, 2014 [13 favorites]


We are always using the Royal We whenever We use it. We hope this has clarified Our meaning.
posted by kyrademon at 3:56 AM on March 1, 2014 [12 favorites]


It certainly makes your chauvinism less ambiguous, spitbull.
posted by Justinian at 3:59 AM on March 1, 2014 [28 favorites]


The "Usian" thing has been discussed here, and discussed again, and again. People will disagree, and it's not actually a Metafilter issue, insofar as it's not a usage that's going to be banned here, and there will be no requirement to use it, either. So, instead of repeating it all once more for no real purpose, can we try to stick to the actual point of the post here? If people want to personally duke it out over "Usian," email is an option.
posted by taz (staff) at 4:09 AM on March 1, 2014 [4 favorites]


The "we" stuff feels exclusionary to my dumb South Pacific ass, but I couldn't possibly understand the enormous geopolitical burdens associated with guaranteeing Anglospherical pronomial integrity. You know, Saddam could bomb that shit in 45 minutes.
posted by Wolof at 4:34 AM on March 1, 2014 [4 favorites]


It seems odd that this shorthand only comes under fire when it is under the praxis of geopolitical issues, because we (as Mefites) are constantly using it under other circumstances, and no one bats an eye.* While geopolitical issues are contentious, I would assume the same issues would come up with something like the educational examples I listed.

I dislike it not because I do not like being lumped in when someone says we, but because it hides the subject of the sentence. I consider it similar to the passive tense. For example:

This is disgusting.
I am disgusted by that.

We should bomb Syria.
The US military should bomb Syria.

Both sentences hide the subject, although in different ways. Now, they probably have equivalent meaning, but I think the connotations of the sentences are different, and intend to portray the user's comment as something greater than their own opinion.

On the other hand, language lawyering, beyond slurs and self-identification issues (trans*), is one of my pet peeves on the site. As we've seen in this very thread, language issues like Usian** tend to derail threads faster than anything else. The same with the usual "copying is not stealing" discussion that happens on every copyright thread, and "racism=power+prejudice" that happens on Metafilter when racism is discussed. So normally I mentally note my irritation, think of the Lone Ranger and Tonto joke, and move on, because discussing whether "we" should bomb a country seems like a much better discussion than whether "we" is a proper pronoun to use. Mainly because the bombs will (literally) have much more of impact.

*I only used those examples because they were ones I remember from previously. It seems like every time someone posts a thread on Metafilter about the educational system of the United States, someone invariably posts about how "we need to change the culture to respect teaching". Which makes me wonder who is "we", and how "we" "change a culture". Sometimes I idly think that someone should get a hold of this We fellow, because he's been slacking off and has a lot of things he needs to do.

**You could almost count USian as a self identification issues, but I am ambivalent on that.
posted by zabuni at 5:16 AM on March 1, 2014 [3 favorites]


We could use the even more royal "one", as in "one should drop a nuclear weapon".
posted by chavenet at 5:17 AM on March 1, 2014 [2 favorites]


On the other hand, language lawyering, beyond slurs and self-identification issues (trans*),

That's exactly why we will keep seeing "USian" derail discussions. It's absolutely a self-identity issue, no ambiguity there. I'm fine with a moderator decision (as has been repeatedly stated) that it's not a banned term -- but the other side of that coin is that there is an absolute guarantee that a significant percentage of the time its use will directly cause a derailment of the conversation because it's an irritating (to many) imposition of identity.
posted by Dip Flash at 5:30 AM on March 1, 2014 [1 favorite]


Now we are tired of this conversation and are going for a walk.
posted by HuronBob at 5:46 AM on March 1, 2014 [9 favorites]


Bob, werewolves looove blankets!
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 5:50 AM on March 1, 2014 [1 favorite]


We could use the even more royal "one", as in "one should drop a nuclear weapon".

That's more of an Emily Post usage -- "One should never drop a nuclear weapon while a guest in a city." I mean, it's hard to imagine a worse guest.
posted by GenjiandProust at 6:23 AM on March 1, 2014 [10 favorites]


Wolof: "The "we" stuff feels exclusionary to my dumb South Pacific ass ..."

I hate to be the one to break it to you, Wolof, but Adelaide's a few thousand kms from the Pacific. The Southern Ocean, on the other hand ...?
posted by barnacles at 6:31 AM on March 1, 2014 [1 favorite]


This feels like the whole "Leader of the Free World" thing back in the late 90s. I recall that an awful lot of USians United Statesians English of the George Washington Persuasion South Canadians were shocked, shocked!, to find that many outside of the US found it incredibly bigoted and offensive.
posted by Thing at 6:32 AM on March 1, 2014 [6 favorites]


On days when things like this are irking me, I like to metaphorically rip open my polyester blouse from Best and Less to reveal a singlet in the ugliest shade of green, transferred upon which is a bad cartoon koala holding a beer, and proclaim 'As an Australian ....' because that annoys pretty much everyone.

I get irked, too! Do you literally have a source for ugly green, koala holding a beer, singlets?
posted by Packed Lunch at 6:39 AM on March 1, 2014


I'm not offended if someone calls me a USian, but I'm going to think they're awfully fucking precious, and that's if it seems like they just think it's less ambiguous or something like that. If they're using it because imperialism, man! I'm going to think they're an idiot.

(spitbull, I do hope you're not going to start saying USian Indian or African-USian because...well, sure, why not. You can do that in the name of fighting imperialism and disambiguating chauvinism.)
posted by rtha at 6:41 AM on March 1, 2014 [12 favorites]


I get irked, too! Do you literally have a source for ugly green, koala holding a beer, singlets?

I am now picturing a team of costumed crime fighters....
posted by GenjiandProust at 6:41 AM on March 1, 2014


The default "we" in geopolitical discussions is only American.

Only when Americans are talking to a crowd that they assume is mostly American. Like, say, on a website created by an American, hosted in America, and that has a userbase that is overwhelmingly American.
posted by valkyryn at 6:42 AM on March 1, 2014 [6 favorites]


I'm fine with South Canadians, but I feel that any widespread adoption of the phrase will only lead to further claims of misappropriation.
posted by Area Man at 6:51 AM on March 1, 2014 [2 favorites]


Wait! I've thought of a compromise: why not "uspeople" or "usfolk"? Then you can believe "us" either means "United States" or "we", depending on your political beliefs.

For example:

"Uspeople are amazing and wonderful, and can solve the world's problems by bombing wayward countries."
"Usfolk are bigoted imperialists, and what have they ever done for us, except for the roads, sanitation,..."
posted by Thing at 7:04 AM on March 1, 2014 [1 favorite]


This Meta makes me sad because I don't have an adorable husky. Jealous of your partner-in-we, HuronBob. Why isn't this the United States of Petting all the Huskies?!

(I'm in favor of people making clear their citizenship/location for relevant posts and AskMes but USian gives me the visual equivalent of listening to a fax machine, and "usfolk" makes me want to re-read Cloud Atlas.)
posted by jetlagaddict at 7:17 AM on March 1, 2014 [1 favorite]


> "... and that's if it seems like they just think it's less ambiguous or something like that."

Serious question. This concept that USian could theoretically be less ambiguous has come up a couple of times, and ... how? The continent in question is North America and the term for someone or something from that continent is, as far as I know, pretty unambiguously "North American". There are the Americas as a whole, I suppose, but no one I can think of would accidentally take "American" to mean "someone or something from North, Central, and/or South America", especially since there are reasonably decent terms for that already on the rare occasions when it comes up, e.g. Pan-American. So what is supposed to be being disambiguated, exactly?
posted by kyrademon at 7:28 AM on March 1, 2014 [1 favorite]


but no one I can think of would accidentally take "American" to mean "someone or something from North, Central, and/or South America"
This usage is quite common in spanish speaking countries.
posted by dhruva at 7:37 AM on March 1, 2014 [7 favorites]


Can I say how much I appreciate that OP appears to be an American himself? I always get a kick out of how good we (yes, I went there) can be at getting pre-emptively offended on others' behalf.
posted by codswallop at 7:37 AM on March 1, 2014


> "This usage is quite common in spanish speaking countries."

I stand corrected, then.
posted by kyrademon at 7:38 AM on March 1, 2014 [1 favorite]


I usually call "Americans" US Citizens instead for accuracy. I do this even though I myself am a US Citizen. I also, I must admit, tend to think poorly of folks who prefer the far less accurate "Americans" because we really are a subset of all the North and South Americans, and if we are going to be on the world stage, sharing it instead of dominating it (since we could dominate it since the Cold War at least if not earlier), we should probably be more respectful and accurate.

But it's usually a private thing. I flog it now out of perversity and an abbhorence for having my choices made for me by folks I cannot be sure aren't using "American" jingoistically.
posted by kalessin at 7:40 AM on March 1, 2014 [3 favorites]


This usage is quite common in spanish speaking countries.

Were we to be writing in Spanish, that would be a really valid issue. In English, there is no ambiguity.

As rtha says, it's not offensive, just precious, and the minor friction it creates is always going to create derails.
posted by Dip Flash at 7:41 AM on March 1, 2014 [12 favorites]


Serious question. This concept that USian could theoretically be less ambiguous has come up a couple of times, and ... how? The continent in question is North America and the term for someone or something from that continent is, as far as I know, pretty unambiguously "North American"

Not making any argument in favor of "USian", but Canada is also in North America.
posted by running order squabble fest at 7:42 AM on March 1, 2014 [2 favorites]


Or I suppose I should say "US Citizens and Residents" since I don't think of folks who live her but don't have citizenship as non-people or anything. I've sort of weighed also saying "US Citizens, Residents and First Nations people" in some threads where it seems like my fellow citizens are in danger of forgetting where we came from or what we did to establish ourselves here in these lands.
posted by kalessin at 7:44 AM on March 1, 2014 [1 favorite]


Oh! Hold up, sorry, I get it. You'd say "American" for someone from the US, and "North American" for someone from the US and/or Canada, right? So there's no need to disambiguate "American", because it excludes Canada by customary usage. Got it.
posted by running order squabble fest at 7:44 AM on March 1, 2014 [1 favorite]


I always get a kick out of how good we (yes, I went there) can be at getting pre-emptively offended on others' behalf.

It's kind of tiresome that someone saying "Hey, can we think about this thing here" is dismissed as being "offended."
posted by rtha at 7:45 AM on March 1, 2014 [14 favorites]


I thought Mexico was located in North America too? Or is it Central America?
posted by kalessin at 7:45 AM on March 1, 2014


de: How do you know they mean "we" (including you) and not "we" (including others in my group, but not necessarily you)? It's just a quirk of English.

Yes, except we've now come to call out that quirk as, at times, othering. Humans are exceptionally good at discerning word intension (especially in their acquired language).


Either you didn't understand my point, I don't understand yours, or both. I don't believe you addressed my question at all, though, which is how can you sure that a use of "we" includes you?

As for your "othering" comment, I find that is the probably the most off the mark a point could possibly be in this discussion. Of course "we" (not including you) is othering, that's the point! "We" (including you), on the other hand, is the opposite of othering. The "quirk" of English is that it lacks different words for this. Two different words with slightly different meanings are both "we" in English. If you don't like that, take it up with most Indo-European languages.
posted by spaltavian at 7:45 AM on March 1, 2014 [3 favorites]


I only use the Papal "we". Cause I'm the motherfucking POPE, motherfuckers!
posted by flapjax at midnite at 7:45 AM on March 1, 2014 [3 favorites]


I usually call "Americans" US Citizens instead for accuracy.

I'd find this a problem of accuracy, because not all people who I think can be legitimately called Americans (resident aliens, illegals who spend their lives here, etc). are US Citizens. Citizens is a subcategory, a political disctinction. Americans is a loose descriptor.

I forgot after one giant epic thread on this in which all possible arguments were aired and exhausted that I promised myself never to talk about it again.
posted by Miko at 7:47 AM on March 1, 2014 [8 favorites]


I'm fine with South Canadians, but I feel that any widespread adoption of the phrase will only lead to further claims of misappropriation.

Fuck yeah, Southern Canadian pride! We reenact the the War of 1812 as remembrance of a way of life we forever lost, eh? Who can forget Brock's hellish March to the Lakes, where troops no longer politely asked to invade?!

Southern Canadian and proud of it!
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 7:47 AM on March 1, 2014 [9 favorites]


It seems to me that people using "USian" often times (not all the time or all the people) *do* mean it offensively--at least in the meaning of attempting to demean and knock down a peg Americans. Which is more acceptable than other slurs, since the USA is in a unique position of power in the world (currently), but it's still meant to belittle.

(Mexico is also in North America, as are most/all of the Caribbean islands.)

Since I haven't seen any links in this thread to specific places using "we" to mean USA residents/citizens, I'm not sure exactly how to reply to that... other than that's normally a mistake unless it's a thread specific about something happening in the USA, of course. Then it's assumed that "we" would be that. If it's someplace else in the world, then of course "we" shouldn't be used to mean USA.
posted by skynxnex at 7:48 AM on March 1, 2014 [6 favorites]


Huh, I see this thread turned out to be about USians after all. That's unfortunate.
posted by Roger Dodger at 7:49 AM on March 1, 2014 [10 favorites]


zabuni: I consider it similar to the passive tense.

Did you mean "past tense" or "passive voice?"

For example:

This is disgusting.
I am disgusted by that.

We should bomb Syria.
The US military should bomb Syria.


None of these is an example of either the past tense or the passive voice.

I don't understand the point you were trying to make.
posted by tzikeh at 7:50 AM on March 1, 2014 [2 favorites]


This concept that USian could theoretically be less ambiguous

It's more ambiguous, because The United States of America is not the only "United States" out there; translated to English, the formal name of Mexico could be United States of Mexico or United Mexican States. The United States of America, however, is the only nation with "America" in the title.

It's incorrect in other ways. We don't call people in the Russian Federation "Federalists" or "Federialians". Because people are of a place, they are not of the structure of a state. (Note America and Mexico are also federations).
posted by spaltavian at 7:52 AM on March 1, 2014 [3 favorites]


Actually, I like to use the term USian for the same reason I like to drop "Frisco" whenever possible. Because I'm from both places, because I know it drives some people crazy, and because people should take the sticks out of their asses when it comes to harmless language.
posted by Random Person at 7:56 AM on March 1, 2014


I don't think anyone is arguing that you don't reserve the right to be a dick.
posted by spaltavian at 7:59 AM on March 1, 2014 [15 favorites]

It's more ambiguous, because The United States of America is not the only "United States" out there; translated to English, the formal name of Mexico could be United State of Mexico or United Mexican States. The United States of America, however, is the only nation with "America" in the title.
That's true in theory, but don't Mexicans often refer to the US as los Estados Unidos? I think USians is sorta silly, but I don't think it's actually confusing. "The United States" typically refers to the USA, not to Mexico.

I really do object to "citizens of the United States" replacing "Americans", because it does seem pretty exclusionary. I know a fair number of people who identify as American but are not American citizens, and I don't want to use language that contributes to the many other exclusions that they already face in US society. And "citizens and residents of the United States" seems a little unwieldy.

I use "we" all the time not necessarily to mean the US (although I might sometimes use it that way), but to mean "society in general". And I guess I can see that it is a little sloppy and I probably should specify who exactly this "we" is. I will try to keep that in mind!
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 8:00 AM on March 1, 2014 [2 favorites]


I always thought San Franciscans eschewed the term "Frisco".
posted by kalessin at 8:01 AM on March 1, 2014


I can understand the frustration; I'm sure this is a pervasive problem both on- and off-line, especially if one frequents US-based political sites.

I realize 99.99% of MeFites don't mean to be overtly American and it's just how people speak, but I think it would make things more civil if "we" wasn't used as often.
(empahsis mine)

Considering that most of the users here are thoughtful most of the time and how critical many MeFites here in the USA are of our own government -- even those politicians we might personally support -- this seems like MeTa by proxy (or proxy by MeTa?) because this is one of the few US-based places a concern like this would be given fair consideration. If there is genuine confusion, a quick check of someone's profile page will usually clear that up. Otherwise, I think it's perfectly acceptable to ask someone to clarify their comment.

Will I be more mindful of this sort of thing in the future? Sure. Personally I don't see that it's much different than when people outside the USA use the word "you" to mean the government when denouncing US policy issues here on MeFi: It's shorthand.

Now, please enjoy this Husky getting a head massage.
posted by Room 641-A at 8:03 AM on March 1, 2014 [1 favorite]


Simply, it's Bostonians.

And the rest of you.
posted by kinetic at 8:09 AM on March 1, 2014 [5 favorites]


On the issue of ambiguity, did you know that Columbus never stepped foot in America? Or that the Thirteen Colonies were American long before they were American? Or that some Native Americans didn't become American until 1924? Or that American football began in 1867 in Buenos Aires and no 1869 at Rutgers College? And that the Spanish American fleet fought for Spain in the Spanish-American War, but Spanish-Americans fought for the US?
posted by Thing at 8:17 AM on March 1, 2014


I'd probably be a bit bummed if my parents named me Ian.
posted by Packed Lunch at 8:18 AM on March 1, 2014


I must have been 7 years old when my parents taught me that when with an international crowd, if someone asks you about your nationality or citizenship, you don't say, "I'm an American," you say, "I'm from the U.S.," specifically because many Latin Americans (Canadians typically don't care very much) have a low-level dislike for the American use of "American" as their demonym. Most of them recognize that that's just what the demonym is in English and are fine with it, but it shows goodwill and an awareness of the world when addressing questions of nationality or citizenship, you find a way to rephrase your sentence so you can say "the USA" instead of "American." (Thereafter in casual conversation it is okay to say "American" but in formal work you should try to write around it if you can.)

That said, it similarly takes two whole seconds to type "U.S. citizens" instead of "USian" or to slightly rephrase your sentence so that instead of "Americans are like this ..." you can say "People from the U.S. are like this ..."

Claims to be using "USian" for clarity's sake are typically disingenuous, as it is rarely more clear than "American" nor does it save any time over "U.S. citizen" (or whatever is appropriate in context), and the same people who looooove USian over objections from U.S. citizens would never think of using demonyms other groups object to (like "Gypsy" instead of "Roma" or "Indian" instead of "First Nation") no matter how much writing-around they had to do to accommodate the preferred term. You can tweak Yanqui noses with "USian" all you want, it's your right and it's fine, but don't feed me shit and tell me it's sugar. You're not doing it to be clear; you're doing it because you don't like the U.S. (or the U.S.'s foreign policy, or some other aspect of U.S. life, government, or culture). You have options for clarity. You choose not to use them.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 8:19 AM on March 1, 2014 [30 favorites]


I think this is sort of an odd complaint or at least putting it at the feet of Americans is. People of all nationalities do it. (Grab a random post on Australian politics, for example.) Sometimes it's annoying or ambiguous. It would be good if people tried to avoid using 'we' when that's going to result in ambiguity.
posted by hoyland at 8:21 AM on March 1, 2014


Often, Americans use "USian" to disambiguate. About half the time that the word is used, judging by the user account location info.
posted by five fresh fish at 8:21 AM on March 1, 2014 [2 favorites]


We should just annex Alaska.
posted by flabdablet at 8:21 AM on March 1, 2014 [3 favorites]


flabdablet: "We should just annex Alaska."

Okay, but you know the Palins and all their reality shows come with it, right?
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 8:26 AM on March 1, 2014 [2 favorites]


Serious question. This concept that USian could theoretically be less ambiguous has come up a couple of times, and ... how? The continent in question is North America

You'll find that this is a far less certain statement of fact than you believe it to be.

As a teenager, I spent a year in Brazil, and let me tell you, I was stunned to discover that something I'd learned by rote as a fact as undeniable as that there were 9 planets in our solar system, wasn't considered universally true. But in Brazil, they teach that the Americas are a single continent.

How North and South America can be the same continent, despite Panama and Europe and Asia can be a different continent despite an entire giant mountain range is somewhat baffling. But even the assertion that North America is a thing that exists is a somewhat Americanized view of the world.
posted by jacquilynne at 8:28 AM on March 1, 2014 [5 favorites]


kalessin: "I thought Mexico was located in North America too? Or is it Central America?"

It's not but Central America is part of North America too. There are 23 countries in North America, not just the US and Canada.
posted by octothorpe at 8:29 AM on March 1, 2014 [3 favorites]


To put it another way, US citizens self-identify, not infrequently, as USians.

Your fellow citizens are probably mortified by your temper tantrums.
posted by five fresh fish at 8:29 AM on March 1, 2014 [2 favorites]


five fresh fish: "To put it another way, US citizens self-identify, not infrequently, as USians.

Your fellow citizens are probably mortified by your temper tantrums.
"

I've never, ever even once heard the term outside of Metafilter.
posted by octothorpe at 8:31 AM on March 1, 2014 [35 favorites]


The term USian doesn't appear in the Wikipeida entry on Americans. Therefore...something.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 8:33 AM on March 1, 2014


a fact as undeniable as that there were 9 planets in our solar system

I have some news.
posted by the man of twists and turns at 8:36 AM on March 1, 2014 [12 favorites]


I've never, ever even once heard the term outside of Metafilter.

One moment of google would return you a ton of results. Many of them — most of them, by my eyeballing — American.
posted by five fresh fish at 8:41 AM on March 1, 2014 [1 favorite]


But you, Brandon, appear in all these threads and spew drivel. Didn't a moderator recently tell you to stop that? Could you actually STFU?
posted by ambient2 at 8:44 AM on March 1, 2014


No, you'll have to deal. Enjoy!
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 8:45 AM on March 1, 2014 [4 favorites]


Brandon isn't doing the thing here that he was asked not to do.
posted by LobsterMitten (staff) at 8:46 AM on March 1, 2014 [2 favorites]


"USian" and the arguments against using that phrase are as old as dirt.
posted by Packed Lunch at 8:46 AM on March 1, 2014


BB: /wiki/Names_for_United_States_citizens

Also listed in Wiktionary, which interestingly credits Americans for its invention (originally spelled "Uessian").
posted by five fresh fish at 8:46 AM on March 1, 2014


I much prefer USAian, at least in writing. Completely dorky when pronounced but that's nothing new.
posted by muddgirl at 8:52 AM on March 1, 2014


Just because an American coined the term doesn't mean that it's in any kind of common usage here. Frank Lloyd Wright liked the term Usonian but no one uses that either.
posted by octothorpe at 8:52 AM on March 1, 2014 [2 favorites]

That said, it similarly takes two whole seconds to type "U.S. citizens" instead of "USian" or to slightly rephrase your sentence so that instead of "Americans are like this ..." you can say "People from the U.S. are like this ..."
I'm ok with using "people from the US" instead of "Americans," but I am wholly uncomfortable using "US citizens" instead of "Americans." It excludes, for instance, Jose Antonio Vargas, who is very definitely not a US citizen but who strongly identifies as an "undocumented American." It excludes my friend who moved to the US when she was five and has been a permanent resident ever since, but who has never been able to scrape together the $750 it would take to file her naturalization papers. Equating "American" with "citizen of the US" is a political statement for people who are interested in immigration issues, and it's not a political statement that I'm willing to be bullied into making.
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 8:53 AM on March 1, 2014 [8 favorites]


BB: /wiki/Names_for_United_States_citizens

*shrugs*

You're trying to argue that since an American coined the term, that makes it right somehow. If you can point to another country named America, I'm all ears to the argument that Americans is a term that applies people other than people born in the United States. Otherwise, WEREWOLVES.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 8:59 AM on March 1, 2014 [1 favorite]


It is about as ugly a word as can be seen anywhere, it is a word that I have never heard anyone actually say during 3.9 decades in the U.S., it is often used to deliberately annoy others or score political points, and it is not what the vast majority of people in the U.S. actually call themselves. Yes, it isn't actually a slur or offensive, but that's not saying much. Something can be annoying as all get out and not be a slur.
posted by Area Man at 8:59 AM on March 1, 2014 [16 favorites]


What are you all arguing about? Just go post some stupid shit you found on youtube to the front page and move on.
posted by Big_B at 9:01 AM on March 1, 2014 [8 favorites]


It is about as ugly a word as can be seen anywhere

Whatever baggage you bring, is your baggage.

From a perspective outside the USA - it just means that place where big cars, Disney and Elvis make super sized sandwiches.
posted by Packed Lunch at 9:07 AM on March 1, 2014 [1 favorite]


The more I read about the term USians, the less I understand why some people feel that it's a slur. But I'm glad that I now know this and I'll try to avoid it even though I don't understand why.

Now if y'all will do me a favour and call my country the Netherlands and not Holland, that would be swell.
posted by Too-Ticky at 9:17 AM on March 1, 2014 [21 favorites]


Simply, it's Bostonians.

And the rest of you.


Couldn't we just go with "Really Greater Bostonians"?

Also, this is a solved problem. Have we already forgotten "Bannerspanglers"?
posted by Rock Steady at 9:19 AM on March 1, 2014 [1 favorite]


ArbitraryAndCapricious: "I'm ok with using "people from the US" instead of "Americans," but I am wholly uncomfortable using "US citizens" instead of "Americans." It excludes, for instance, Jose Antonio Vargas, who is very definitely not a US citizen but who strongly identifies as an "undocumented American.""

Yes, this is why I said as "appropriate in context." There may be cases where you want to talk about citizens, voters, residents, expats, or whatever, and it's mostly a pretty easy thing to write around. (If I'm in a crowd where I know "Americans" is disliked but I want to include the general group of "Americans" including expats and the undocumented and so on, I usually go with "people from the U.S." which in casual conversation is usually clear enough. If I were to specify "U.S. citizens" it would probably be in context of a point about citizenship or possibly voting.)

I know "American" is particularly loaded for various reasons, but a lot of these questions come up with ANY demonym -- if we say "the French," who is French? Are immigrants included? Which immigrants? French citizens living overseas? Legal temporary residents in France? People born in France but citizens in other countries? Huge broad words like "French" or "British" or "Australian" always have these ambiguities built in.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 9:25 AM on March 1, 2014 [1 favorite]


It reminds me of college discussion groups,

I think I found the problem.
posted by bongo_x at 9:43 AM on March 1, 2014 [1 favorite]


tl;dr but IMO you don't have a voice in this argument unless your location is in your profile.
posted by Rash at 9:43 AM on March 1, 2014 [2 favorites]


U S of Asian is great. Specific and rolls off the tongue. As an added bonus, it has the potential to annoy both people in the US as well as Asians. And really, for us USofAsians, there is no more unifying national identifier than our ability to annoy large numbers of people. Only the Swiss are worse in this regard.
posted by Random Person at 9:45 AM on March 1, 2014 [2 favorites]


If it's to annoy, I guess that gives rise to the term "Ugly USian".
posted by spaltavian at 9:49 AM on March 1, 2014


The use is 'we' I find less confusing (out sometimes annoying) than people making claims for something being the first or having a world changing influence when they mean first in the US or US/America changing.
posted by biffa at 9:56 AM on March 1, 2014 [1 favorite]


just for that, cell divide, we're going to invade you.
posted by univac at 10:03 AM on March 1, 2014


As one of the small minority of non-US + non-native English speakers, it's been clear to me for a while that Metafilter is a US-oriented site where non-US members are guests, so I take for granted the "we" as "we in the US". A majority of the FPPs are concerned directly with US politics and culture and when this is not the case the discussions will likely be about the US perspective (there are exceptions of course). It is frustrating, because it's de facto exclusionary: in a thread about X, it's pointless to add "in my culture, this is how we deal with X" because the thread is actually about X-in-the-US and that's what most Mefites want to discuss. This could totally not be the case (I've participated in English-speaking forums whose user base was much more international) but at this point Metafilter demographics are what they are.
posted by elgilito at 10:18 AM on March 1, 2014 [14 favorites]


Not making any argument in favor of "USian", but Canada is also in North America.

We Canadians never, ever, ever call ourselves Americans.
posted by justsomebodythatyouusedtoknow at 10:21 AM on March 1, 2014 [7 favorites]


Not even when behaving badly as tourists?
posted by ODiV at 10:45 AM on March 1, 2014 [8 favorites]


Wow, so USian is out now? I probably would've still used it out of deference to the sensitivities of whoever posted the first MeTa about it years ago -- not to be precious, but because "whatever, fine." Now I find out (apparently not having kept up with MetaTalk nearly enough) that there's a whole subset of people against it.

This makes me unreasonably fed up with the whole thing.* Like, do I need my brain to regularly receive patches to correct for the latest words that are in or out? Could we automate this to the comment system?** "Are you sure you want to post this comment? The term USian is under dispute. See MeTa post 123456."

I'm not railing against general societal moves towards more inclusive, less derogatory language, and I realize there's a thin line between that and efforts to improve language on MetaFilter specifically. But this post falls squarely in that latter category in my view. I think we (users of MetaFilter, residents of all nations) should strive to minimize the degree to which MetaFilter ends up with its own specialized Dictionary of Charged, Wrong, or Divisive Words. It seems particularly over the top to add a word as common as "we" to that list. ("Are you sure you want to post this comment? The term "we" is under dispute...")

While I don't think the word "we" should become a particular focus of language monitoring and do think we should cut each other some slack, I agree with the motives behind this post. I am grateful for posts and comments that bring a non-US perspective. I appreciate the occasional reminder that not everyone here is Amer-- (oh God) US--... does not live in...does not currently live in or hail from... or otherwise identify as a resident or citizen of the particular grouping of United States located in that portion of North America bordered to the north by Canada and to the south by Mexico. (how was that?)

* and also by those kids on my lawn
** not an actual suggestion
posted by salvia at 11:02 AM on March 1, 2014 [3 favorites]



Only when Americans are talking to a crowd that they assume is mostly American. Like, say, on a website created by an American, hosted in America, and that has a userbase that is overwhelmingly American.


This kind of attitude, that Metafilter=American and therefore every other nationality is a guest in the house (and should probably behave), is fairly toxic. And a surprising number of members who I otherwise respect trot out this chauvinistic crap.

So yes, I'd like it to be clearly stated from the top that Metafilter is an international community which happens to be based in the United States.

There's no real solution to the "we" issue but there is a solution to the chauvinism issue.
posted by Rumple at 11:17 AM on March 1, 2014 [32 favorites]


Wow, so USian is out now?

No?
posted by muddgirl at 11:18 AM on March 1, 2014 [1 favorite]


Are British people UKians?

British people are UKoGBaNIans. Pronounced you-cog-bay-knee-uhns.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 11:30 AM on March 1, 2014 [5 favorites]


Wow, so USian is out now?

It's problematic for some. If you want to use it, no one is stopping you, just realize there may be pushback, which could derail whatever point you wanted to make.

This kind of attitude, that Metafilter=American and therefore every other nationality is a guest in the house (and should probably behave), is fairly toxic.

It's not designed that way, just is that way by most members being American. I think it's about 70%.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 11:32 AM on March 1, 2014 [1 favorite]


When you say "we" and I don't know who you are, one of the things I don't know is your citizenship or nationality.

Unless some other context has been stipulated, I never doubt that a nation specific "we" on Metafilter always means American, because like valkyryn said a long while back, Metafilter is a site ...

created by an American, hosted in America, and [.] has a userbase that is overwhelmingly American.
posted by philip-random at 11:34 AM on March 1, 2014


British people are UKoGBaNIans. Pronounced you-cog-bay-knee-uhns.

Of course, some UKoGBaNIans don't identify as British. National identity is a tricky thing... I'd only ever seen USians on this site and I assumed it was the new preferred way to identity people who were from the USA as opposed to those who live in South America or Canada, so this thread has been informative.

As to the OP's main point, I assumed they meant "on this site 'we' means 'MeFites' and please bear in mind not all MeFites are American", which seems a fairly benign thing to draw attention to.
posted by billiebee at 11:48 AM on March 1, 2014 [3 favorites]


For the record, I'm fine with the assumption that the site users are Americans unless stated otherwise. It's an American site with a strongly international flavour.
posted by alasdair at 11:53 AM on March 1, 2014


valkyryn: Only when Americans are talking to a crowd that they assume is mostly American. Like, say, on a website created by an American, hosted in America, and that has a userbase that is overwhelmingly American.

I hate being USiansplained to.
posted by gman at 12:18 PM on March 1, 2014 [8 favorites]


I assumed they meant "on this site 'we' means 'MeFites' and please bear in mind not all MeFites are American", which seems a fairly benign thing to draw attention to.

Well, the actual request was "for people to refrain when possible from using 'we' when discussing the people of the United States."

I think it would be a little over the top to consistently pretend I'm not a member of a group I am a member of and refer to "them" in the third person.

It's like if my boyfriend and I were to say to friends, "the people who are in the romantic relationship headquartered at 1234 Our Street are going on vacation this month!" Kinda stilted.

Even in your formulation, which I like better, it still sounds like you're trying to mandate a single antecedent for all uses of a pronoun, which seems a bit rigid.
posted by salvia at 12:19 PM on March 1, 2014 [1 favorite]


it still sounds like you're trying to mandate a single antecedent for all uses of a pronoun, which seems a bit rigid

Sorry, just to be clear, the "we=Americans" thing doesn't really bother me, as I also accept it's a predominantly American site. I was just trying to say that I could see what the OP was getting at. I don't think language should be policed too much, with the exception of words that cause genuine offense. It's just about asking people to be mindful of things they might not have considered before, but that doesn't necessarily mean they have to make any changes if they don't want to.
posted by billiebee at 12:27 PM on March 1, 2014 [1 favorite]


I hate the term USians, but the Americans, plural, is now copyrighted and trademarked by FX. Network tv has totally flanked us on this debate and settled the matter. DARN YOU CORPORATE AMERICA.

... and I think the "we" thing is really just a matter of cutting people slack. Very likely, anyone who uses it in that manner visits about 99% other sites that are explicitly American (not plural) in nature. If someone slips up, it's probably not a conscious effort to insult or irritate others.
posted by Atreides at 12:34 PM on March 1, 2014


Someone please get Usain Bolt a Mefi account.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 12:49 PM on March 1, 2014 [6 favorites]


Now if y'all will do me a favour and call my country the Netherlands and not Holland, that would be swell.

Though, to be honest, we're impressed already when you yanks don't confuse us with Denmark, so we don't really care one way or another.

That is, unless you are a particular militant Frisian waging war against the dominace of "het westen" or a confused Brabander offended at being thought to be the same as those from above the rivers.

And considering carnival has just started, if you're a Brabander you're likely more confused than normal anyway.
posted by MartinWisse at 12:54 PM on March 1, 2014 [3 favorites]


And of course USians is wrong, it should be USAnians.
posted by MartinWisse at 12:58 PM on March 1, 2014


Blazecock Pileon: Someone please get Usain Bolt a Mefi account.

I think I know who should gift the account.
posted by gman at 1:03 PM on March 1, 2014 [2 favorites]


Sorry, billiebee, I didn't mean that I think you or the OP are trying to force people to comply (punishment! banning!!) instead of asking them simply to consider. And I agree that awareness is good, so I think I agree with you there.

For me, the issue is that "we" is a pronoun. It refers to different things in different contexts. It doesn't necessarily include the listeners. If I'm talking about a ballot initiative that passed in California and say "I'm so glad we voted that in!" it reveals that I'm a California voter but doesn't mean I'm assuming that everyone else on MetaFilter is. I like using the first person plural when discussing a group that I am a member of. I like the way that "we" and other pronouns are variables that can be defined to refer to various antecedents.

I'm sure occasionally "we" gets used in the sense of "all of us here, who of course are all US voters," and it makes sense to discourage and raise awareness of that. But I wonder if that couldn't be addressed without discouraging people from the US from using the word "we" when it reveals "their" (ahem) membership in that group and also without pre-defining the meaning of the pronoun "we."

On the other hand, it has been interesting to think about how I'd feel if I constantly heard multiple people say "we," "yes, and we," "and we should also..." if I wasn't part of that group. I might well feel like an outsider or invisible. To the extent that the goal of the post was to ask people to imagine that, and take that awareness into account, that seems valuable.
posted by salvia at 1:12 PM on March 1, 2014 [4 favorites]


to be honest, we're impressed already when you yanks don't confuse us with Denmark, so we don't really care one way or another.

MartinWisse, kindly speak for yourself, dank je wel. :-P
posted by Too-Ticky at 1:15 PM on March 1, 2014


... and I think the "we" thing is really just a matter of cutting people slack. Very likely, anyone who uses it in that manner visits about 99% other sites that are explicitly American (not plural) in nature. If someone slips up, it's probably not a conscious effort to insult or irritate others.

Do people see websites as "explicitly [nationality]"? I can't think that, apart from government websites, there's anything so nation-based about websites or the internet. I don't see Metafilter (or Youtube, or Google, or Pinterest, or Wikipedia, or anything) as being in one country or another. I know there used to be a thing where ".com" was meant to be for South Canadian companies only, but that's pretty old-fashioned nowadays.
posted by Thing at 1:20 PM on March 1, 2014


This request is unnecessary.

I have noticed a trend of peeps on metafilter to start metas in order to have people comply with their preferences for language.

In most cases, I see the point, as the alternative would be TRULY offensive to people.

But in this case, I just see someone who is saying "hey, when you want to say 'americans', don't say "we", because i may not to be included".

amazing.

I think this is actually insulting to people who have made legit claims that X is an offensive word, or X is the appropriate way to refer to this person. This request makes it sound like americans are some marginalized group.

In the words of Michelle Tanner, "How rude!".
posted by hal_c_on at 1:22 PM on March 1, 2014 [1 favorite]


> It's an American site with a strongly international flavour.

And here I was thinking that it was an international site with a strong American flavour. Silly me!

Srsly now, what makes this an American site in some people's view? Sure, it started in the US... should we still see it as a US website, and what does that even mean?
posted by Too-Ticky at 1:22 PM on March 1, 2014 [1 favorite]


Srsly now, what makes this an American site in some people's view? Sure, it started in the US... should we still see it as a US website, and what does that even mean?

Most of the people here are American. But I have no problems with non-Americans...but seriously:

1. Site founded in US
2. Most members are from the US.
3. Most of the things are regarding american culture.
4. Seriously...if it wasn't for 1-3, you wouldn't be here.
posted by hal_c_on at 1:24 PM on March 1, 2014 [3 favorites]


Most of the things are regarding american culture.

That's true, but apart from that, it's a pretty neat site.
Mind you, I have no problems with Americans. Some of my friends are Americans.
posted by Too-Ticky at 1:26 PM on March 1, 2014 [6 favorites]


As a proviso of the Coeur d'Alene Desecession Pact of '74, I automatically grant U.S. citizenship whenever I deploy the first person plural. If you've ever read a comment in which I use "we" or "us" as metonyms for God's own United S of A, then "you" are "US" too now, buster! The paperwork for your back taxes and selective service is in the mail. So welcome aboard, Gerhardt, and God bless USia.
posted by Your Disapproving Father at 1:30 PM on March 1, 2014 [1 favorite]


I think the best way to refer to Americans or USians (seriously, what idiot came up with that term?) is "Rock, flag and eagles".
posted by hal_c_on at 1:33 PM on March 1, 2014


Whenever I hear someone use the term "USians", I think "This is the type of person who still says 'whoomp there it is'."
posted by hal_c_on at 1:34 PM on March 1, 2014 [8 favorites]


Who let the dogs out? (And were they a North or South American not residing in the USA?)
posted by salvia at 1:39 PM on March 1, 2014


My impression is that Mefi is purely American in content, and has become more so in recent years. There's little activity nowadays while the USA is asleep. Experience from a few years back suggests that posts from and about other places that don't have clear relevance to an American audience would quickly get derailed.
posted by Segundus at 1:40 PM on March 1, 2014 [4 favorites]


I don't like people saying it is a US website, as it could make non-US users feel unwelcome.
posted by Area Man at 1:46 PM on March 1, 2014 [3 favorites]


I believe Americans are allowed to have websites of their own these days.
posted by Segundus at 1:49 PM on March 1, 2014


I guess that I don't really see this website as American, except in the sense that it was founded by and is owned by a person who is American. We've got a really significant Canadian contingent, and some of my favorite Mefites aren't from or in North America at all. It's hard to deny that we're pretty North American-dominated, both in membership and in focus, but I sort of balk at the idea that this is "an American website." Maybe that's just me trying to feel less provincial than I actually am.
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 1:53 PM on March 1, 2014 [5 favorites]


My impression is that Mefi is purely American in content, and has become more so in recent years. There's little activity nowadays while the USA is asleep. Experience from a few years back suggests that posts from and about other places that don't have clear relevance to an American audience would quickly get derailed.

That's not my impression. Metafilter is certainly English-language and just by population alone the United States is going to dominate that discussion. But I see lots of posts here about issues in the UK, for example, that attract impassioned participation from UK-based Mefites. I see lots of posts about Canadian issues (although you may have been including Canada in "American"--one of the problems with that term); I recognize a wide number of Australian (and a surprising number of Kiwi) Mefites who regularly comment in all threads but who also bring informed commentary about political issues down under. And then there's a large number of continental European English-as-a-second-language (often a remarkably fluent second language!) posters. So...this actually doesn't seem like a very informed comment.

As for the "we" thing. Well, pronouns are tricksy beasts. They're not always, in normal, spoken-language usage a direct interpellation of all listeners. That is, I can use "we" when speaking to a group and have it be situationally clear that I do not mean "all members of this group to which I am speaking." Think, for example, of someone speaking on behalf of an organization to some audience who are not members of that audience. "We are proud to announce..." "we apologize unequivocally" etc. Or think of talking to your friend about your family's holiday rituals: "what we always do..." So the implication in this post that when someone says "what we should do..." it implies that they automatically think that they are speaking for their entire audience is simply wrong. And I'll bet it would be easy to find threads about UK politics or Australian politics etc. where some local says "well, we always..." or "we really ought to..." without anyone from the US feeling that they're being excluded from the conversation.

That said, though, it's no doubt a good practice to be mindful about the possibility of being misunderstood or the possibility of using the "we" in ways that do imply "we all here on Metafilter do..." when the issues at hand are purely US-based.
posted by yoink at 1:55 PM on March 1, 2014 [10 favorites]


We Americans who are language-wallahs around here sure can be a bit uptight. Chill out, men.
posted by codswallop at 1:59 PM on March 1, 2014


My impression is that Mefi is purely American in content, and has become more so in recent years. There's little activity nowadays while the USA is asleep. Experience from a few years back suggests that posts from and about other places that don't have clear relevance to an American audience would quickly get derailed.

"27 stabbed to death in China"

...soon...

"Well, this just goes to show that opponents of the Second Amendment are wrongheaded."
posted by Thing at 2:03 PM on March 1, 2014 [3 favorites]


Experience from a few years back suggests that posts from and about other places that don't have clear relevance to an American audience would quickly get derailed.

This very much seems not to be the case for posts about Australian politics, for example (which, while kind of rare, stand out to me because they tend to be near the top of the page when I get up in the morning due to the time change).

(Of course, there was that one time I made a post about soccer and people insisted on talking about American football.)
posted by hoyland at 2:09 PM on March 1, 2014


We Canadians never, ever, ever call ourselves Americans.

I lived in Canada for seven years. Almost every time I was watching US TV with a Canadian friend and some American person talked about what "Americans" think or do or what have you there would be some eye-rolling pushback about how "you know, Canada is also part of America!" This is just one of those issues on which it seems you're damned no matter what you do. Personally, I don't use USian because I know it ticks some people off, but it often crosses my mind when I find myself thinking "Oh, I want to be explicit that I'm talking about Americans-from-the-USA and not from any of the rest of the Americas"--and then find that there's just no term available that won't piss someone off.
posted by yoink at 2:10 PM on March 1, 2014


(Actually, that's happened twice.)
posted by hoyland at 2:11 PM on March 1, 2014



to be honest, we're impressed already when you yanks don't confuse us with Denmark, so we don't really care one way or another.


seriously, who could confuse the good people of low lying Deutschland with those northern barbarians?
posted by philip-random at 2:13 PM on March 1, 2014


Woah.
posted by running order squabble fest at 2:18 PM on March 1, 2014


Yeah, I mean, the New York Times does regularly notice that other countries exist (probably more often than Mefi); that doesn't mean it isn't an American newspaper.

My point is not to criticise - I don't think there's some obligation to be international. On the contrary, my point is that as a non-American myself I do not mind the presumption that it is an essentially American conversation going on here.
posted by Segundus at 2:29 PM on March 1, 2014 [2 favorites]


seriously, who could confuse the good people of low lying Deutschland with those northern barbarians?

This is the true story... of seven strangers... picked to live in a house...work together and have their lives taped... to find out what happens... when people stop being polite... and start getting real...The Real World.
posted by hal_c_on at 2:31 PM on March 1, 2014 [1 favorite]


> in a thread about X, it's pointless to add "in my culture, this is how we deal with X" because the thread is actually about X-in-the-US and that's what most Mefites want to discuss

I agree with that, and it's a shame this kind of point tends to get swept aside in these discussions in favour of less nuanced arguments about how MeFi is hosted in the US and run by an American so why shouldn't there be a lot of threads about US politics etc etc. It's not that I find it offensive when discussions about X are really about X-in-the-US exclusively; it's more that it seems like a waste of a potentially more interesting conversation, lots of the time.

What it reminds me of, somehow: Last winter I was on holiday in Australia, and for part of it me and my husband were in a small tour group that was mostly Americans. And they were lovely people, they honestly were! But, for everything we talked about or the tour guide pointed out to us, the conversation ended up being about how it compared to the US, did/didn't work like that in the US, or could/couldn't ever happen in the US. So, saltwater crocodiles? Ah you see back at home we have alligators, which... *lengthy digression about alligators*. Tour guide mentions hurting his leg last year? Oh no, that's terrible! Did you have health insurance? Do you guys even do health insurance here? Well, I bet it works better than our system, our system is so messed up... *long conversation, mainly with the other Americans, about how the US healthcare system reflects on US attitudes to poverty and self-determination*. Big tree? Looks kind of like a Californian Redwood. Poisonous snakes? Well back home we have.. and so on, and so on.

I want to emphasise again: they were not bad people! And it is only human to compare foreign things to their equivalents back home! And some of the conversations were quite interesting (I had no idea Americans had to pay so much for travel insurance - ouch). But at the same time... can't the spider just be a spider, rather than a jumping-off point for an explanation of how many tarantulas you see in Arizona? Can't we hear about Australian politics as Australian politics, rather than as an illustration of how American politics work? Isn't it a bit of a shame to come all this way to such an amazing new place, and only talk about home?

So I suppose I see it in much the same way when we have discussions like this. It's not inaccurate or offensive to say "most of the userbase is American" - it just seems like a shame to round 'most' up to 100%, and see it as "an American site" rather than an international one, when there are voices here from all over the world and the potential to have much more varied and interesting discussions than just X-in-the-US.
posted by Catseye at 3:07 PM on March 1, 2014 [22 favorites]


Tourists to the US do this as well. It's hard to combat the idea of American exceptionalism when it seems like even non-USAians want to label all our habits as being unique.
posted by muddgirl at 3:18 PM on March 1, 2014 [1 favorite]


No, honestly, I'm not trying to slam Americans for anything. Like I said, it's a totally human thing to do. My point wasn't "Americans are bad people."
posted by Catseye at 3:22 PM on March 1, 2014 [1 favorite]


I know that wasn't your point (you said so in your original comment). I just can't figure out what your point is. Americans are omnipresent and that's annoying? Sure, I can understand that. I don't know what to do about that on Mefi. Maybe institute that ticket system I've always been talking about where people have to take a number to comment so that comments feel fairly proportioned between all kinds of viewpoints.
posted by muddgirl at 3:33 PM on March 1, 2014


There have been threads about stuff in England where people said "we" with no qualifiers (and some of those threads had no clue in the OP as to where they were about.)

There have also been threads where people said "we" and cruelly did not reveal that they were Canadian, nor did the word Canada appear in the OP.

Also, Australian, as hoyland says.

It's not something that belongs to citizens of the USA. Everybody does it.


As for the other thing, USian is ugly, probably hard to pronounce (I've never heard anyone try), and is not disambiguation - it's actually the opposite. Canadaian TV-grumblers aside, no one is confused by the standard use of the word American, so there's no need to muddy the waters with a new term that lots of people dislike.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 3:44 PM on March 1, 2014 [1 favorite]


We've got a really significant Canadian contingent

Yeah, as a Canadian I've never felt as though my non-American position isn't well represented.

...every time I was watching US TV with a Canadian friend and some American person talked about what "Americans" think or do or what have you there would be some eye-rolling pushback about how "you know, Canada is also part of America!"

Keep in mind, the purpose of her saying that was to take a jab at an American. We'd claim to be Martians if we thought it would irk you.
posted by justsomebodythatyouusedtoknow at 3:54 PM on March 1, 2014 [2 favorites]


I just can't figure out what your point is. Americans are omnipresent and that's annoying?

Argh, no.

My point was that the people in the tour group only seemed interested in discussing Australian things in terms of how they were/weren't like their American equivalents, and what that said about America. In the same way that MeFi conversations which are nominally about X can end up being exclusively about X-in-the-US. In both cases, it is not offensive that Americans - as the majority group present - wanted to talk only about X-in-the-US, but it is a shame that the conversations ended up so limited, especially since other people present had other views and perspectives on X and were kind of shouldered out of the conversation.

They could have been Japanese tourists or British tourists or Cambodian tourists and done the same thing. People are insular and weird the whole world over. They just happened to be American in this particular instance.
posted by Catseye at 4:01 PM on March 1, 2014


Keep in mind, the purpose of her saying that was to take a jab at an American. We'd claim to be Martians if we thought it would irk you.

Except that, at that time, I was not yet, nor had any thought that I might one day become, an American. It was much more a "hey, aren't those Americans jerks!" kind of thing. Which, of course, is a great bonding sentiment all the world over. Still, Canadians' collective chip on their shoulder about America did eventually make me sorry for the many expatriate Americans I knew there. The reflexive "Americans are all Gordon Gekko/Rambo / Canadians are all Doctors Without Borders/Amnesty International" even when it is in "joking" form, must get pretty tedious. Especially when the Americans who have actually gone to live and work in Canada are almost by definition not the reflexive "America, love it or leave it" types.
posted by yoink at 4:16 PM on March 1, 2014 [1 favorite]


Some what late, but the passive voice could be used instead.

"They should have a nuclear bomb dropped on them"

"Afghanistan should be invaded"

"One should not vote for Rob Ford"

etc, et al
posted by GuyZero at 4:25 PM on March 1, 2014


I believe Americans are allowed to have websites of their own these days.

Yeah, but they need British security services to monitor it for them.

Special Relationship, baby. We're USians by proxy.
posted by PeterMcDermott at 4:29 PM on March 1, 2014 [1 favorite]


Metafilter, like much of the rest of the web, has a distinctly American bias which, as a non-American, you pretty much just have to get used to. Any attempts to get people to think otherwise usually results in the people who didn't need the message hearing it and the people who did need it ignoring/fighting it.

It only gets particularly irritating here when users dislike or disagree with something that's posted (cf, mildly, Britain's Austerity Celebrity) because as an American they presume it's posted for them when it isn't, or when users apply their personal, American perspective as How Things Are, which is annoying no matter which blind spots are involved.

As a non-American, sure, I'd like it if users could be more aware that it's not the centre of all our experiences (if you want the technicalities, pretend I mentioned cultural hegemony), but I'm neither holding my breath or particularly aggrieved by it, partly because it is so everyday when online.

I will roll my eyes harder at users who jump on language policing when they can moderate others getting defensive about their American bias showing, though, same as I do at users who would ordinarily argue against individual words being deemed offensive taking USian as a personal insult. That's just my own, private reaction, however.
posted by gadge emeritus at 4:30 PM on March 1, 2014 [8 favorites]


As one of the small minority of non-US + non-native English speakers, it's been clear to me for a while that Metafilter is a US-oriented site where non-US members are guests

The golden MeFi membership card helped me put any doubts to rest. More seriously, people are mostly going to post about things they are interested in and talk about things they know; however, I've made four Greek-related posts that went well even though there are like five Mefites in Greece. Best mod/user ratio? Some of my favourite posts by other Mefites have been about Hungary.

No results found for site:metafilter.com "we should drop a nuclear weapon".

So, that's why we're never sure.
posted by ersatz at 4:39 PM on March 1, 2014


The proper way is "I and I should drop a nuclear weapon". This could all be avoided.
posted by bongo_x at 4:42 PM on March 1, 2014 [2 favorites]


Today my boss, who is from Mexico, informed me that in Spanish the Flemish language is called "Flamenco", which is... delightful. I asked if other languages also had the names of dances and he said "If it will make you happy, then yes, all languages in Spanish are named after dances." My boss makes Jeeves look like Carrot Top.
posted by Divine_Wino at 4:49 PM on March 1, 2014 [17 favorites]


The proper way is "I and I should drop a nuclear weapon". This could all be avoided.

I an' I Rastafarian navy.
posted by Divine_Wino at 4:49 PM on March 1, 2014


This is a silly request, since obviously "we" is not generally assumed to mean "we Mefites".

If I post a relationship AskMe, and say "we have been dating for a year", nobody would assume I meant that I have been dating everyone on Metafilter for a year.

I'm all for a better awareness that the entire world is not American, but I think a careful reflection every time the word "we" is used on this site is a little much.
posted by Sara C. at 4:52 PM on March 1, 2014 [2 favorites]


"One should not vote for Rob Ford"

Here we are back to the realm of etiquette. And, it would seem, good sense.
posted by GenjiandProust at 4:54 PM on March 1, 2014 [3 favorites]


"If it will make you happy, then yes, all languages in Spanish are named after dances."

Your boss has a terrifying level of power and authority.
posted by GenjiandProust at 4:56 PM on March 1, 2014 [11 favorites]


nobody would assume I meant that I have been dating everyone on Metafilter for a year.

/sobs, returns engagement ring, thought things had been going so well.
posted by Ghidorah at 4:58 PM on March 1, 2014 [9 favorites]


If I post a relationship AskMe, and say "we have been dating for a year", nobody would assume I meant that I have been dating everyone on Metafilter for a year.

That's super silly. It means that you've been dating all of America for a year.
posted by hal_c_on at 5:03 PM on March 1, 2014 [8 favorites]


"Someone please get Usain Bolt a Mefi account."

I know! I've been thinking the same thing every time it came up!
posted by klangklangston at 5:08 PM on March 1, 2014


Too-Ticky: Now if y'all will do me a favour and call my country the Netherlands and not Holland, that would be swell.

MartinWisse: Though, to be honest, we're impressed already when you yanks don't confuse us with Denmark, so we don't really care one way or another.

But, anyway, I think we* can all agree that Zwarte Piet is absolutely NOT a racist phenomenon.

*meaning all you Danes, of course
posted by flapjax at midnite at 5:14 PM on March 1, 2014 [1 favorite]


We should annex Belgium.
posted by flabdablet at 5:24 PM on March 1, 2014 [1 favorite]


The more I read about the term USians, the less I understand why some people feel that it's a slur.

The more I read this thread, the more I realize that no one is calling it a slur. Why is it that we're only allowed to talk about language in terms of people being offended? There's a lot more to good word choice than just not offending people.
posted by John Cohen at 5:40 PM on March 1, 2014 [8 favorites]


You know, last time this "USians" conversation got hauled out (or was it the time before the time before that?) I made this comment:

It's USians vs. THEMians.

As I recall, that got a lot of favorites. Now, how many of you will FAVORITE this comment? Most will just pass it by, but we'll see who my REAL friends are by how many favorites this gets.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 5:54 PM on March 1, 2014 [15 favorites]


I'm a Mainah. And as far as we are concerned, everyone else is from Away.
posted by Marie Mon Dieu at 6:12 PM on March 1, 2014 [7 favorites]


clangingly uneuphonious

I find it awesome that this pair of words actually sounds so good to my ears.
posted by SpacemanStix at 6:19 PM on March 1, 2014 [3 favorites]


Barring some evidence that USian is intended to be mean, I don't mind it. People use 'we' in context. I generally don't think individual commenters speak for All Of MeFi, or assume they are from the US. Check your assumptions.

I generally respect forms of political correctness when they are about deeply ingrained prejudices regarding people who have been profoundly discriminated against. I don't necessarily agree that if 1 person is genuinely offended about a thing, we must change our wording.

Best way to make MeFi less US-centric? Awesome posts that are not US-specific.
posted by theora55 at 6:29 PM on March 1, 2014 [1 favorite]


The more I read this thread, the more I realize that no one is calling it a slur. Why is it that we're only allowed to talk about language in terms of people being offended?

But people obviously are offended by it and think it's some sort of jab at them. That becomes almost immediately clear as soon as it's used in any thread. I, too, find this utterly baffling as it semantically unpacks so clearly to "Person from the United States." But there's never any point saying "you shouldn't be offended by this" to people who are offended. It's easy enough to not use the term, so I don't.
posted by yoink at 6:38 PM on March 1, 2014 [1 favorite]


poor, flapjax - so few real friends.
posted by philip-random at 6:42 PM on March 1, 2014 [2 favorites]


I would like Hezbollah to switch from "Death to America" to "Death to the U.S.A."
posted by Area Man at 6:44 PM on March 1, 2014 [2 favorites]


But... surely the antonym of "euphony" is "cacophony"?

We need to ask one of the five Greeks, stat.
posted by running order squabble fest at 6:59 PM on March 1, 2014 [1 favorite]


Americans are playing Metafilter on the easiest setting.
posted by Rumple at 7:08 PM on March 1, 2014 [4 favorites]


That's super silly. It means that you've been dating all of America for a year.

DTMF. Trust me. I've dated a few USians and you really don't want to waste your time.
posted by Golden Eternity at 7:15 PM on March 1, 2014 [1 favorite]


Metafilter: DTMF. Trust me.
posted by hal_c_on at 7:17 PM on March 1, 2014 [1 favorite]


I am not so much offended by USian as I am confused by it. If I go to a foreign country, they will not say, "are you a USian?" They will ask if I am American. So it's just not standardly used, and it's not part of regular speech. It seems like a made up term by someone who was offended by something, but I don't know what it was. American has been in use for so long that to try and change it on one website to something else seems trite. As if I wanted to change Australian to "Lower Hemispherian" or something. Would they stand for that?

As far as "we," I guess we should all try to be more aware of the fact that others are not always we, but it's pretty common to say we should do this or that, and sorry that someone offended you with their we. I just can't wrap my head around being offended by it, it's sort of like, if you can read something in context, you should get it, or FIAMO or go off and do something else.
posted by Marie Mon Dieu at 7:22 PM on March 1, 2014 [1 favorite]


(Whatever baggage you bring, is your baggage.
...
posted by Packed Lunch

is the best eponysterical posting I have seen in a while.)
posted by mlle valentine at 7:22 PM on March 1, 2014 [4 favorites]


I think it was started by Canadians or others, annoyed that US citizens have assumed the name of two continents as their personal moniker.
posted by Golden Eternity at 7:32 PM on March 1, 2014 [2 favorites]


I have a lot of Canadian friends, who are very proud of being Canadian and pointing out how much better their country is compared to America. And the American way of life, etc. There is no mention of USian in any of this. It's pretty much Canada is better than America or Americans. I'm just saying, it's common speech and to change the term is pretty much a minority from my personal experience and I think to indulge it here is wrong. I am an American citizen. I would not ask a Canadian to change to CaNAmerican.
posted by Marie Mon Dieu at 7:42 PM on March 1, 2014


Canada is better than America "The States," no? I dunno, I may be wrong; I think metafilter's the only place I've seen the word.
posted by Golden Eternity at 7:52 PM on March 1, 2014


When talking about the place that is south of them, I have only ever heard my Canadian friends call it the States or the US. When talking about the people, I've only ever heard them say Americans. Or, You People.
posted by rtha at 8:01 PM on March 1, 2014 [3 favorites]


Today my boss, who is from Mexico, informed me that in Spanish the Flemish language is called "Flamenco", which is... delightful. I asked if other languages also had the names of dances

Having failed the saving throw against pedantry [thanks katullus], Spaniards named the dance "flamenco" because it reminded them of the Flemish. Either because the motions of the dance seemed awkward and jerky, which prejudice against the Flemish was apparently the style at the time, or because showy dress and behavior in general had become associated with Flanders during Carlos V for some reason.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 8:13 PM on March 1, 2014 [4 favorites]


Even more delightful.
posted by Divine_Wino at 8:19 PM on March 1, 2014


I am not so much offended by USian as I am confused by it.

Yes, this. It's just weird to think that you can just say that even though residents of the fifty states are called Americans everywhere else, on Metafilter the term is "usian".
posted by octothorpe at 9:02 PM on March 1, 2014 [10 favorites]


I first read that as "Toronto joke."

Speaking of Rob Ford...
posted by Ranucci at 9:09 PM on March 1, 2014


I have been reading the Ukraine thread and I would just like to say, Canada, I am glad you are America's hat. There are some really shitty hat-countries out there and I am glad that if we saw Canadian tanks on the streets of Chicago everyone would be like, "Yay! They've come help with snow removal!" It is awfully good to have the world's longest undefended border even if sometimes a Bieber slips through.

I am going to resolve to be less-grumpy about people using annoying demonyms for the U.S. because no matter what people call us, we still get Canada as our hat, and that's pretty sweet.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 9:21 PM on March 1, 2014 [26 favorites]


Me and some friends went North to Canada when we were in high school. Whenever we explained (usually in apology for our confusion) that "we are Americans", they gave us a lecture about Canadians Being Americans Too. So we started saying "we're from the States", to which they'd say "what?" And we'd have to clarify by saying "we're Americans".

Well played, Canada.
posted by mmoncur at 9:25 PM on March 1, 2014 [4 favorites]


More like the United Skates (does a rad 360 off a rail)
posted by FAMOUS MONSTER at 9:35 PM on March 1, 2014 [5 favorites]


What if we invented a one-character symbol pronounced "the populace formerly known as American?"
posted by salvia at 9:39 PM on March 1, 2014 [3 favorites]


"Best way to make MeFi less US-centric? Awesome posts that are not US-specific."

Yeah, that works well

Yanksplainin' [verb, gerund] : The act of an American explaining how you should feel, think, or respond to an event or happening in your own country, esp. when it is done to avoid offending or impinging on their attitudes, opinions, or beliefs.
posted by Pinback at 10:00 PM on March 1, 2014 [4 favorites]


No results found for site:metafilter.com "we should drop a nuclear weapon".

Try "we should nuke"
posted by biffa at 10:59 PM on March 1, 2014


they aren't the world
posted by philip-random at 11:38 PM on March 1, 2014


Can we just refer to citizens of the United States as 'jerks'?


Wait! This isn't helping discourse *at all*!
posted by mazola at 11:49 PM on March 1, 2014 [2 favorites]


I am going to resolve to be less-grumpy about people using annoying demonyms for the U.S. because no matter what people call us, we still get Canada as our hat, and that's pretty sweet.

I think you mean "toque."
posted by Random Person at 12:20 AM on March 2, 2014 [5 favorites]


If you look on a map up around the Great Lakes, you'll see Ontario dangles deep into the US. Kind of like how Florida dangles into the Gulf.

If Canada is a hat, it's a top hat.
posted by five fresh fish at 1:32 AM on March 2, 2014


This is so recursively meta. A Meta thread about the problems caused by having a large majority of US members ends up being derailed because a particular word is bugging US members.
posted by elgilito at 1:55 AM on March 2, 2014 [8 favorites]


They could have been Japanese tourists or British tourists or Cambodian tourists and done the same thing.

It is a noticeable American thing, though, isn't it at the risk of seeming rude? I think it comes from various sources, but one is an inexplicable psychological quirk peculiar to the USA of having a very strong desire for things to be set in context. I think John W Campbell (I might have got this wrong) used to insist that SF stories couldn't just be about some unexplained aliens; there had to be a paragraph that connected them with Earth or with human exploration - it could be irrelevant to the rest of the story, just so long as we knew where we were. That's a very American attitude.

Somewhat similarly (stupid examples, but bear with me) Enid Blyton's Noddy stories were popular around the world for years and never got any traction in the USA until someone realised it was because the US audience felt unsure about what manner of being Noddy actually was - a toy? an elf? a boy? and where on earth he was supposed to be. Other nations were prepared to just go with the stories without worrying about the inexplicably muddled context. When they did a TV series which incorporated a framing narrative which made it clear that Noddy was a toy in a particular toy shop and the stories were being told about him and other toys by someone in that toyshop, then it all went down much better with a US audience.

The way this sometimes works out on Mefi is that someone posts about X in a foreign country. American mefites want to understand, which for them importantly means setting X in context, and inevitably, an American context. So they typically suggest an American analogue (is that like Trader Joe's/ is that like Fox News/ is that like George Bush?). This innocent tactic pretty much guarantees, unfortunately, that they miss the special features that made X interesting in the first place, and it opens the way to immediately derailing the thread into one about Trader Joe's, or whatever.

This outcome is made more likely because American users tend to have the privilege of stopping a thread to ask for explanations about non-US matters (can we stop talking about Canadian politics for a minute while you explain what a riding is?), while foreigners asking for explanations of Americana are more likely to be told to Google it, or whatever. This is not actually altogether unreasonable because probably 80% of readers don't know what a riding is, while 80% do know what (say) a caucus meeting is; but it does mean non-American threads have sometimes been quickly stomped to death.

No offence intended, YMMV, etc. This is not a complaint, just a personal analysis. I do not think there is anything much that can or should be done about all this: I think this is just a case where foreigners like me have to understand what's going on, appreciate that it's not xenophobia, remember that Mefi is not an official UN publication, and allow our US friends a bit of slack.
posted by Segundus at 1:56 AM on March 2, 2014 [16 favorites]


If Canada is a hat, it's a top hat.

Or possibly a topmiler.
posted by flabdablet at 1:58 AM on March 2, 2014 [1 favorite]


This is a silly request

It's a calmly worded request from a member of the community in the appropriate part of the site. That you disagree with it does not make it "silly" by definition.

If I post a relationship AskMe, and say "we have been dating for a year", nobody would assume I meant that I have been dating everyone on Metafilter for a year.

Obviously. Not really sure why people keep using the "if I say 'we' are dating/engaged/married..." example. As has been noted already, the "we" in these contexts is clear.

I think a careful reflection every time the word "we" is used on this site is a little much

No one is calling for that. The OP was specifically asking members to consider the use of "we" in the context of actually meaning "the people of the United States".
posted by billiebee at 4:58 AM on March 2, 2014 [6 favorites]


I am glad this callout exists.

While I have to run away to some single malt in a friend's kitchen and can't read the whole thread, I want to say that this is something that I've always been mindful of when writing and its time the global village grew up.

It doesn't matter if the site is maerican and the owner is umrikan and the majority is American and the language is one used in the United States. There are still people who belong to your community and mine who are from all over the world.

here is a great place to start putting ethnocentric exceptionalism aside. its bad enough in MSM
posted by infini at 5:14 AM on March 2, 2014 [5 favorites]


I think it comes from various sources, but one is an inexplicable psychological quirk peculiar to the USA of having a very strong desire for things to be set in context.

So what you're saying is that Americans are a bit, well, special?
posted by MartinWisse at 5:15 AM on March 2, 2014 [3 favorites]


I have only ever seen anyone say "USian" on this site, and I mostly think it's one of those obnoxious constructions invented to passive-aggressively piss people off, a la "the democrat party." No thanks.
posted by kittens for breakfast at 5:57 AM on March 2, 2014 [15 favorites]


Not everything is about you or them or us or him or her or me. Comments need to be read in context and you (the general you) need to choose your battles carefully because otherwise life will become very annoying indeed.
posted by h00py at 5:59 AM on March 2, 2014


(That's in response to the original topic. The USian thing is too silly to comment on).
posted by h00py at 6:03 AM on March 2, 2014 [1 favorite]


Metafilter: I have to run away to some single malt in a friend's kitchen and can't read the whole thread.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 6:25 AM on March 2, 2014 [4 favorites]


one of those obnoxious constructions invented to passive-aggressively piss people off, a la "the democrat party."

A transparent attempt to passive-aggressively piss French people off by incorrectly spelling "à la".
posted by flapjax at midnite at 6:28 AM on March 2, 2014 [7 favorites]


A transparent attempt to passive-aggressively piss French people off by incorrectly spelling "à la".

This thread is sure bringing out the best in people.
posted by Mister Bijou at 6:53 AM on March 2, 2014 [2 favorites]


As an Australian I'd say you're being oversensitive but then I would, wouldn't I? Stroya!
posted by h00py at 6:58 AM on March 2, 2014 [2 favorites]


If you look on a map up around the Great Lakes, you'll see Ontario dangles deep into the US. Kind of like how Florida dangles into the Gulf.

The Canadong?

I'm so sorry
posted by running order squabble fest at 6:58 AM on March 2, 2014 [3 favorites]


Mister Bijou: This thread is sure bringing out the best in people.

Only two mods and five comments later, I've actually enjoyed watching the kids being allowed to play in the sandbox all on their own for the past 24 hours.
posted by gman at 7:02 AM on March 2, 2014


"I am large, I contain multitudes."
- Walt Whitman

"Since each of us was several, there was already quite a crowd."
- Deleuze & Guattari
posted by Pyrogenesis at 7:30 AM on March 2, 2014


I have only ever seen anyone say "USian" on this site

Use some Google. Huh. Looks like it is used on the net in general.

I mostly think it's one of those obnoxious constructions invented to passive-aggressively piss people off, a la "the democrat party."

Strange that it looks like Americans themselves use the term about half the time it's used. Both on MeFi and on the web (and in newspapers and reports).

No thanks.

I suspect, given your own countryfolk are using the term, that you're just guaranteeing yourself frustration. Good luck with that.
posted by five fresh fish at 7:31 AM on March 2, 2014 [3 favorites]


For the many people in this thread who seem to think that "USian" is something invented on Metafilter, you might be interested in this excerpt from the Wikipedia page on "Names for United States Citizens":
The only officially and commonly used alternative for referring to the people of the United States in English is to refer to them as citizens of that country.[12] Several single-word English alternatives for "American" have been suggested over time, including "Usonian", popularized by Frank Lloyd Wright,[13] and the nonce term "United-Statesian".[14] The writer H. L. Mencken collected a number of proposals from between 1789 and 1939, finding terms including "Columbian, Columbard, Fredonian, Frede, Unisian, United Statesian, Colonican, Appalacian, USian, Washingtonian, Usonian, Uessian, U-S-ian, Uesican, United Stater."[15] Nevertheless no alternative to "American" is common in English.[12] The only known language to have universally accepted Wright’s proposal is Esperanto, calling the country Usono and the citizens Usonanoj.
There really is a long history of discontentment out there that the term "American" feels imprecise as a term for "Citizen of the United States." There are two whole continents of "Americans" out there: North and South. "USian" (and close variants) is a term with a long pre-Metafilter history. And no, it has never been an insult or a passive aggressive attempt to piss people off or whatever--it's just an attempt to come up with a term for "Citizen of the United States" that doesn't have the implicit ambiguity (or the "we're the only 'Americans' that count!" arrogance) of "American."

Again, I'm not advocating its use; if people are offended by it, it's easy enough to avoid. But it's worth understanding the history of the term--and similar terms.
posted by yoink at 7:32 AM on March 2, 2014 [5 favorites]


And yet if someone says they are an American everyone knows exactly what they mean. This is a solution in search of a problem.
posted by Justinian at 7:35 AM on March 2, 2014 [11 favorites]


Can we just refer to citizens of the United States as 'jerks'?

Protip: the actual way to do this is to call us Merkins, which sounds like how many of us say American and also means pubic wig.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 7:39 AM on March 2, 2014 [2 favorites]


Welcome to MegaCineDodecaPlex! How may I help you?

Hi, we'd like two tickets for the 8:45 showing of "Transformers VIII: Transform Harder", please.

Thanks! But I'm afraid your friend there is going to need a ticket too.
posted by Flunkie at 7:40 AM on March 2, 2014


And yet if someone says they are an American everyone knows exactly what they mean

As a general rule, and perhaps very particularly here on Metafilter, "but everyone knows what I mean when I use the word" is not regarded as a conclusive and sufficient argument for continued exclusive use of that word to name whatever it is that you want to name. The argument against the use of the term "American" exclusive for US citizens is that there is something rather imperialistically arrogant in the abrogation of a term for the inhabitants of two entire continents as the demonym for the citizens of just one of the countries in those two continents. That, for example, is why Portuguese and Spanish speakers are encouraged to use estadunidense and estadounidenses respectively--because americano is seen not so much as "ambiguous" as "ought-to-be-ambiguous."
posted by yoink at 7:43 AM on March 2, 2014 [3 favorites]


Thanks! But I'm afraid your friend there is going to need a ticket too.

Oh I see, we're giving examples of Things That Would Never Happen to illustrate why the request isn't merited? How useful.
posted by billiebee at 7:47 AM on March 2, 2014 [1 favorite]


Serious question: Have I unwittingly been annoying vast swaths of MeFites every time I make a post or comment because they see the word 'usonian'? I've been using 'usonian' as my go-to handle for 16 years, not for any of the tortured reasons being debated in this thread, but after about 5 seconds of deliberation because someone had invited me to join a Quake deathmatch and I needed a username, and I happened to be a Frank Lloyd Wright geek at the time.

Cortex pronounced it 'U.S.onian' in a podcast a while back and ever since then I've been vaguely worried that people may assume I'm some kind of frothing jingoistic wingnut, but now I guess I need to worry that other people think I'm... what, being passive aggressive by not using the word "American"?

Seriously, if the very existence of my username really bothers people or prejudices their assumptions about me, I want to know.
posted by usonian at 7:48 AM on March 2, 2014


Since this thread is still going:

I am an American who usually calls myself an American but I don't think USian is ugly or bothersome or even particularly unusual. When someone uses it I don't get a sense that they're trying to get on my nerves. On the other hand, from reading various threads about this on MetaFilter I've learned that the word gets up a lot of peoples' noses, so I don't use it myself.

And I think it's perfectly reasonable for me to try to use the word "we" in a thoughtful way when what I mean is "We Americans." If there is an MeFi post about parenting and I say

"My wife and I are having a lot of trouble with our son acting out. We need to discipline our kids more strictly"

the we clearly means "My wife and I."

But if I say

"That's a great article, thanks, OP. We need to discipline our kids more strictly."

it seems plain that I mean "we parents" more generally.

I see nothing wrong with trying to avoid using the "we" that means "we humans" or "we MeFites" when I mean "we Americans" (or even "we USians!") This thread isn't exactly a callout -- it's not "you're an imperialist a-hole if you say this," it's "you might want to think about this," and yes, we -- we MeFites, not just we Americans! -- might want to.
posted by escabeche at 7:54 AM on March 2, 2014 [3 favorites]


herp derp USian
posted by entropicamericana at 8:00 AM on March 2, 2014

Oh I see, we're giving examples of Things That Would Never Happen to illustrate why the request isn't merited? How useful.
No, we're not. I am.
posted by Flunkie at 8:07 AM on March 2, 2014 [1 favorite]


Touché.
posted by billiebee at 8:09 AM on March 2, 2014 [2 favorites]


I think it's important to distinguish between being offended and being harmed.
posted by Mooski at 8:26 AM on March 2, 2014 [3 favorites]


> "Seriously, if the very existence of my username really bothers people or prejudices their assumptions about me, I want to know."

No, you're fine. USian has a very specific connotation that derives from the context of its use. If usonian were ever commonly used in the same way as USian, usonian might pick up that connotation, but it isn't so it hasn't. And in fact, it's so use-specific that "usian" as a user name probably wouldn't raise any eyebrows, either.
posted by kyrademon at 8:30 AM on March 2, 2014


Protip: the actual way to do this is to call us Merkins,

Or... Septics.
posted by Mister Bijou at 8:32 AM on March 2, 2014 [4 favorites]


USian has a very specific connotation

It would be truer to say that it has a "very specific connotation in the minds of a subset of Mefites." To me it reads as an absolutely neutral alternative to "American" or "United States citizen." I understand that there are people who do not read the term that way (largely, I think, due to ignorance of the history of the term, but that's neither here nor there) and so I avoid it's usage. But it's not true to say that it is universally (or, even, widely) understood to have any very "specific connotation."
posted by yoink at 9:03 AM on March 2, 2014 [3 favorites]


But it's not true to say that it is universally (or, even, widely) understood to have any very "specific connotation."

Can I ask how you know this? Has there been a survey or something?

Upthread, you said something about how so many people find it offensive, and at least up to that point in the thread, I saw people saying they find it annoying or unnecessary, but few if any people had declared themselves offended by the term. Being annoyed and being offended are not the same thing.
posted by rtha at 9:13 AM on March 2, 2014 [1 favorite]


This post feels like a solution in search of a problem.
posted by Old Man McKay at 9:17 AM on March 2, 2014 [2 favorites]


I think it's important to distinguish between being offended and being harmed.

I think it's important to distinguish between being offended, being harmed, and being annoyed. And after reading rtha's comment above, I will amend that to we think the distinctions are important.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 9:23 AM on March 2, 2014


The insistence that USian is a real, valid term that people use or are going to use in the future sounds amazingly like the Bitcoin arguments.
posted by bongo_x at 9:25 AM on March 2, 2014 [12 favorites]


The whole bogus pushing for USian usage reminds me of Rachel McAdam's character in Mean Girls trying to boost 'fetch' as a meme. Unnecessary and silly in both cases.

As for the "we" debate, that's all dependent on context of course. But most members are American so you are going to get an ulcer unless you allow a reasonable amount of leeway.

What can be more galling, imho (obviously) is when posts appear that have nothing to do with America, but some early posters think it's necessary to recontextualise a subject to filter it through (for) the American experience. I think that's pretty obnoxious and also insulting most of the rest of the people on the site.
posted by peacay at 9:26 AM on March 2, 2014 [2 favorites]


Upthread, you said something about how so many people find it offensive, and at least up to that point in the thread, I saw people saying they find it annoying or unnecessary, but few if any people had declared themselves offended by the term

I'm offended and annoyed by its use, therefore it's unnecessary.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 9:31 AM on March 2, 2014 [1 favorite]


now I guess I need to worry that other people think I'm... what, being passive aggressive by not using the word "American"?

As a person who is annoyed by "Usian," I'd say "no, absolutely not." Primarily, because it's a name you chose for yourself. There are plenty of user names that would be fighting words if yelled in a bar. So I would say you are good.

Plus you sport a jaunty hat, much like America.
posted by GenjiandProust at 9:36 AM on March 2, 2014 [2 favorites]


And no, it has never been an insult or a passive aggressive attempt to piss people off or whatever--it's just an attempt to come up with a term for "Citizen of the United States" that doesn't have the implicit ambiguity (or the "we're the only 'Americans' that count!" arrogance) of "American."

"You guys are really full of yourselves. But don't worry, I have a solution! And if you don't like it, well, I guess you just need to get over yourselves!" I mean, that's very thoughtful.
posted by kittens for breakfast at 9:42 AM on March 2, 2014 [7 favorites]


The insistence that USian is a real, valid term that people use or are going to use in the future sounds amazingly like the Bitcoin arguments.

Well, that and the belief that Usians will one day become a universal global currency (possibly backed up by the finite annoyance reserve).

It is true that people from the USA are sometimes implicated in illegal financial activity, are likely a bubble, take an increasing amount of energy to produce, and are often lost in cold storage, but, hey....
posted by GenjiandProust at 9:42 AM on March 2, 2014 [2 favorites]


I'm not lost yet, but I am in cold storage (aka Minnesota).
posted by Area Man at 9:52 AM on March 2, 2014 [1 favorite]


> "There are plenty of user names that would be fighting words if yelled in a bar."

Yeah, like some are even implying that Murasaki Shikibu's invention of the novel with a sprawling examination of romantic life among courtiers of the Heian period is somehow comparable to À la Recherche du Temps Perdu's break with the 19th century tradition of realist and plot-driven novels by presenting a multi-perspective meditation on the formation of experience! Last time someone said that to me, I was like, bam! Right in the kisser.
posted by kyrademon at 9:54 AM on March 2, 2014 [7 favorites]


I agree that "USian" is a disagreeable term - everyone knows that the plain-speaking citizens of that blessed nation prefer a term that more adequately connotes their determination, their directness and simple honesty: "USer". That's why we hear so many of our US-based cousins proudly proclaim: "I'm a User and I'll NEVER give up!"

I, for one, would never think of denying my user friends everything they need to keep "USing", and that's why I don't see why they need to "rehabilitate" themselves with regard to their language use. No to rehab, yes to USing - that's my motto.

So vote #1 quidnunc kid for your coke dealer. Wait I mean "language mod", or whatever. 'Scuse me I just need the bathroom - back in 5.
posted by the quidnunc kid at 9:55 AM on March 2, 2014 [7 favorites]


But it's not true to say that it is universally (or, even, widely) understood to have any very "specific connotation."

That's not true. I wouldn't say universally, but definitely widely. First page of google results for USian has people talking about how stupid it its.
posted by nooneyouknow at 9:59 AM on March 2, 2014


a couple of Irish whiskies later

It is interesting to note how the derail into jargon and terminology has made us forget the original topic which was should Americans on Metafilter consider being more thoughtful about their choice of words and assumptions in our globalized world?

And would less ethnocentric exceptionalism be considered as valid as any other 'ism like sexism/racism/genderism that we, as an online community, are otherwise so considerate and sensitive about?

Or rather, must every post, even those on price of veg in the UK, devolve into something related to Podunk, NJ?
posted by infini at 10:04 AM on March 2, 2014 [6 favorites]


I agree that "USian" is a disagreeable term - everyone knows that the plain-speaking citizens of that blessed nation prefer a term that more adequately connotes their determination, their directness and simple honesty: "USer".

Personally, I like USAnusian.
posted by PeterMcDermott at 10:04 AM on March 2, 2014 [4 favorites]


I ask the moderators to change the word in the OP so that we can discuss what is the real intent of this thread and not one singular word.
posted by infini at 10:07 AM on March 2, 2014


That's not how things work here. We've suggested several times that people can skip the USian derail, but people really love to argue about it, so c'est la vie.

Possibly, most of us agree in principle that people from the US should be mindful that they're not the only people in the conversation. Nobody is really arguing against that simple reminder, as far as I can see. (Now, agreement in principle is one thing, and actually being self-aware about whether one's treating the US as a default perspective is maybe more difficult. I know I get caught up by this sometimes.)
posted by LobsterMitten (staff) at 10:13 AM on March 2, 2014 [1 favorite]


Metafilter: No point too small to be argued to death, no horse too dead to beat.
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 10:14 AM on March 2, 2014 [5 favorites]


> "Now, agreement in principle is one thing, and actually being self-aware about whether one's treating the US as a default perspective is maybe more difficult. I know I get caught up by this sometimes."

We all get caught up by that sometimes, really.

(is joke)
posted by kyrademon at 10:20 AM on March 2, 2014


There really is a long history of discontentment out there that the term "American" feels imprecise as a term for "Citizen of the United States." There are two whole continents of "Americans" out there: North and South. "USian" (and close variants) is a term with a long pre-Metafilter history. And no, it has never been an insult or a passive aggressive attempt to piss people off or whatever--it's just an attempt to come up with a term for "Citizen of the United States" that doesn't have the implicit ambiguity (or the "we're the only 'Americans' that count!" arrogance) of "American."

I still think this is a solution in search of a problem. The reality is that there are words that overlap in their references, and like most things, context works it out. American is a citizen of the United States. North American and South American also have understandable referents. American can be used in a secondary way, but more often than not, context helps us sufficiently understand the proper referent. We have an entire category of words called homonyms where similar things happen, and we get along fine if we pay close attention. I'm skeptical that there's a real ambiguity here that needs resolving.
posted by SpacemanStix at 10:33 AM on March 2, 2014 [3 favorites]


That's not how things work here. We've suggested several times that people can skip the USian derail, but people really love to argue about it, so c'est la vie.

That feels like a good reason not to say "USian" - regardless of whether or not it's agreed to be pejorative, enough people on MetaFilter will complain about it to clog the engines of the discussion.

In a related kind of a way, "please keep in mind that not everyone on MetaFilter is a [long-enough term resident of the United States to approach topics from the perspective of the US, whether a citizen or not]" feels fairly uncontroversial, and also not enforceable. There's a thing that happens when people post a MeTa like this where people treat what seems unambiguously to be an etiquette request as a policy request. Dangers of the slash, I guess.
posted by running order squabble fest at 10:43 AM on March 2, 2014


Yeah, like some are even implying that Murasaki Shikibu's invention of the novel...

This happens a lot at meet-ups. We are introducing ourselves, someone mishears, and pretty soon it's all fists and broken pint glasses. Kind of like MeTas, actually.
posted by GenjiandProust at 10:45 AM on March 2, 2014


That's not how things work here.

(To clarify, what I meant is that the mods don't edit people's posts unilaterally. And in a case like this, it's too late in the thread for an edit to make sense.)
posted by LobsterMitten (staff) at 10:57 AM on March 2, 2014


I do love when people who aren't part of a group decide what the label for that group is gonna be, especially when they're ignoring the objections to their chosen terminology from members of that group.
posted by kafziel at 10:59 AM on March 2, 2014 [3 favorites]


Laphroig Green Cask anyone?


and thank you for that clarification LobsterMitten
posted by infini at 11:01 AM on March 2, 2014


I love it when members of a group using a new term for themselves are ignored and insulted by members of the same group.
posted by Deoridhe at 11:02 AM on March 2, 2014 [3 favorites]


Seriously, if the very existence of my username really bothers people or prejudices their assumptions about me, I want to know.

American onian
Stay away from me
American onion
You're an allium see

okay i got nothin'
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 11:09 AM on March 2, 2014


Wolof: "The "we" stuff feels exclusionary to my dumb South Pacific ass ..."

barnacles: I hate to be the one to break it to you, Wolof, but Adelaide's a few thousand kms from the Pacific. The Southern Ocean, on the other hand ...?


Just while the Americans talk amongst themselves again, can we just not perhaps divorce ourselves from the (South) Pacific, not while we have the US marines doing its balancing act, formerly 'pivoting', out of Darwin; and certainly not while Abbott is parading around Canberra with swollen war glands.

(We know it was Gillard who did the dirty, so things are looking irreversible going forward. 'Pacific's the word we want: Stroya Pacific. No Nukes in Darwin.)
posted by de at 11:11 AM on March 2, 2014


Or rather, must every post, even those on price of veg in the UK, devolve into something related to Podunk, NJ?

This is a definite problem, and it's a very close kin to all the "101" issues we've had on MeTa over the years. The site is about discussion, and people want to comment. Some topics have a higher minimum knowledge requirement for participation, and, while sometimes education efforts make a thread richer, it more often fatally draws energy away from substantive comment. So there is a tendency for all threads to become white, male, cis-, heterosexual, American, Game of Thrones-watching, etc.

My solution is to try and stay out of threads that I don't think I can add to. If the subject is interesting (let's say, The Rob Ford trainwreck), I'll read the thread because the subject is interesting, but what would I say to enliven that thread (Providence, and RI have had some "colorfully corrupt" political figures, but none of their antics are likely to be anything more than a derail when the subject is Rob Ford). Obviously, other people feel differently, and equally obviously, it's worth keeping in mind that many members of the site "are from elsewhere" and respect that as much as possible. The "we" business is kind of a sideline, since that can as easily be a product of slightly muddled writing as a conscious or unconscious desire to universalize the American experience.
posted by GenjiandProust at 11:13 AM on March 2, 2014 [4 favorites]


.
posted by de at 11:16 AM on March 2, 2014


yoink: But people obviously are offended by it and think it's some sort of jab at them. That becomes almost immediately clear as soon as it's used in any thread. I, too, find this utterly baffling as it semantically unpacks so clearly to "Person from the United States."

It doesn't unpack to that. It takes a side in an argument, a side that most Americans don't agree with. Saying USian is designed to tweak Americans, the exact same way as the Republican use of "Democrat" party. It tells us that you think we shouldn't call ourselves American, it tells us that you think the rules of Spanish should be applied to American English, it tells us that our geography framework is wrong, it comments upon our history and it weighs in an identity debate.

You are definitely wading into those waters with the use of USian. Maybe you side against the majority of Americans on all these points; maybe you think our use of "American" is racist, Yanqui imperialism, and we deserved to be tweaked. If that's what you want to do, fine. Or maybe you just mean it as a privilege check or something. But don't try to claim that you have no idea what we're talking about when it's clear you ate the canary.
posted by spaltavian at 11:43 AM on March 2, 2014 [15 favorites]


don't try to claim that you have no idea what we're talking about

Kind of ironic given the thread that non-Americans are supposed to just "know" what a word means to Americans even if we've never come across it before. Also I see no one in this thread saying they're going to keep using it whether people like it or not. The OP clarified they didn't realise it was offensive and even apologised for its use.
posted by billiebee at 11:52 AM on March 2, 2014 [2 favorites]


You really think a substantial number of "USian" users saw this new, obviously made up word that replaces a word they already knew and thought "oh, I guess the word changed"? Like, the United States must have changed it's Constitution or something?
posted by spaltavian at 11:59 AM on March 2, 2014


The US has to change its constitution before new words are allowed? And all words are made up. Look some of us are behind the curve. I only learned about doge in the last few months ffs.
posted by billiebee at 12:01 PM on March 2, 2014 [1 favorite]


I think it's easy for people to see it as a bit of silly fun or whatever, and not realize that it comes across a bit as a deliberate tweaking.
posted by LobsterMitten (staff) at 12:02 PM on March 2, 2014 [4 favorites]


it tells us that you think the rules of Spanish should be applied to American English

¿Que?
posted by running order squabble fest at 12:02 PM on March 2, 2014 [2 favorites]


Sheesh, just check your pronouns to make sure the antecedents are clear, and carry on.
posted by desuetude at 12:07 PM on March 2, 2014 [5 favorites]


Also I see no one in this thread saying they're going to keep using it whether people like it or not. The OP clarified they didn't realise it was offensive and even apologised for its use.

Spitbull did.

The OP did, which was appreciated (at least by me). On the other hand, there have been a bunch of MeTas on the topic, so anyone who's been paying attention to MeTa should have an idea that the word is fractious. However, mistakes happen.

Once more, there is no Internet Word Police who will drag you off in chains for using a problematic word. However, if you do you this particular word, you are risking a few things -- a) getting embroiled in a political issue where you have (wittingly or unwittingly) taken a stand and b) getting your main point derailed as we fight over the term instead of the main point.

At the root of this is the same self-determination argument that crops up over and over -- groups get to decide what they are called, and resisting that is rude at the least. It often seems trivial from the outside, but it is really stabbing at the group's identity, and stuff like that tends to get a lot of pushback.
posted by GenjiandProust at 12:11 PM on March 2, 2014 [1 favorite]


I think it's easy for people to see it as a bit of silly fun or whatever, and not realize that it comes across a bit as a deliberate tweaking.

Strongly agree - and also that some people see it used elsewhere online and use it, or get (bad) advice from people who they feel are closer to the subject. I mean, cell divide said upthread:
I sincerely had no idea this was a loaded term. I was trying to avoid using "American" since I've had other North Americans chide me in the past for using that as a blanket term for people from the U.S.A. I apologize for using that term, it's one I've only seen online and didn't realize it was in any way offensive! I actually thought it would be a sort of fun term to use since it has "Us" in it.
So... yeah. Either it's possible to use it without being aware that it's going to rile the crap out of some Americans - although probably only once - or we have to have another, unresolvable, bad-tempered discussion about whether cell divide is being malicious. It seems a lot easier to assume that it's something that can be picked up and used without malice, at least once.
posted by running order squabble fest at 12:11 PM on March 2, 2014 [1 favorite]


¿Que?

Spanish usage is different. The "Yanqui imperialist" thing was a reference to feeling among some (many? most?) residents of Latin American countries that America refers to a singular continent, and that "American" is a term for everyone who lives there, so people in the States who call themselves Americans are being offensive and/or language imperialists. Look at the Wikipedia talk page for "America" and you'll find native Spanish speakers who are passionate on this topic.

And you know what? Fine! If I were in a South American country and could speak Spanish (Ugly American amirite), I wouldn't call myself "Americano", because that's not what the word means there. But in English, I am an American, and I don't see why language conventions from New World Spanish dialects should be imposed on New World English dialects.
posted by spaltavian at 12:23 PM on March 2, 2014


there have been a bunch of MeTas on the topic, so anyone who's been paying attention to MeTa should have an idea that the word is fractious

I don't think that's totally fair. I've only been here about a year, and in that time I've read lots of old MeTas (for research procrastination purposes) and I've never come across this debate before. I would never use a word to describe a person or group if I knew they found it offensive, and I won't use USians for that reason. But I think it's about accepting good faith. If you looked at my location you might call me British. I could accept that you are an outsider to my culture and making an honest mistake because I live in a part of Great Britain. Or I could throw a hissy fit about how dare you not know the history of the British/Irish debate and blah troubles yada oppression etc. I missed spitbull's assertion but I've always (maybe mistakenly) believed them to be American (sorry if that's incorrect and/or offensive) and I think it's different if someone from the in-group wants to use the word, I'm not sure how you stop that. I was talking about non-Americans saying they would continue to use it, of which I don't see any.
posted by billiebee at 12:25 PM on March 2, 2014 [5 favorites]


Nations, the vast majority of them, have both a full, formal name that nobody uses in common speech, and a much-shortened version of the name that is suitable for everyday use and is so used. Examples:
Nation of Brunei, Abode of Peace              Brunei
Federal Democratic Republic of Nepal          Nepal
Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka    Sri Lanka
Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela              Venezuela
Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan                   Jordan
Islamic Republic of Mauritania                Mauritania
Now, the full formal name of the nation in that big chunk of the North American continent in between Canada and Mexico is "The United States of America." Its much-shortened everyday name is, therefore, _______. You can fill in the blank with whatever you want to use, and use it. Your own language is yours to police as you like (though no one else's is.) But if you encounter the blank filled in with "America," that is not an example of American exceptionalism or an American appropriation of language. It does not take the names of all the different Americas and redirect them to mean only one. All that is baggage brought to the topic, not meaning found in it. When "America" is used as the name of a country it is no more and no less than an expandable variable that shouts "Expand me!" The country name $(America) expands to "The United States of America" in exactly the same way the country name $(Brunei) expands to "Nation of Brunei, Abode of Peace."

N.b Canadian exceptionalism noted; the full formal name of Canada is "Canada."
posted by jfuller at 12:26 PM on March 2, 2014 [4 favorites]


So who would ever have any reason to refer to themselves as "Americans" in everyday speech? I mean, people from countries other than the United States generally have much more reason to refer to themselves as nationals from specific countries or members of specific groups unless they're arguing about the United States. In what context does a person from Brazil, from Canada, or from Nicaragua mean to refer to herself or himself as "American" or "Americano" rather than as "Brasilian" or "Canadian" or "Nicaraguan?" Indeed, it seems like the trend in identity these days is towards increasingly specific self-designation, not towards broader continental designations. You get a lot more of people from Wales preferring "Welsh" to "British" than you get people from Wales insisting on being called "European," for example.

In part because of that reason, there does not seem to be any ethnic group other than United States citizens with a desire to take "American" as a self-applied label, nor is there any particular confusion when the only country on the two continents with "America" in its official name uses the term "American" as a demonym. There are two continents with "America" in the name, but only one country. The endgame of "USian" and its variants is that "American" is used for almost nothing whatsoever, not that it suddenly becomes a label in wide and general use for a broader variety of groups or persons.

Added to this is that few of the proposed alternative labels seem felicitous or unproblematic in themselves. Variants of "Columbia" run into the obvious problem of confusion with Colombia in speech and with the archaism (and, frankly, imperialist echoes) of the national personification itself. "Fredonian" has likely been spoiled by the Marx Brothers for all time. "USian" also has the slight problem of being an acronym stuck to a demonymous suffix, with all the pronunciation ambiguities that suggests. Is it "yoo-shan" or "yoo-ess-ee-un?" "USer" has similar problems. And "unitedstatesian" is very unlikely to get traction among anyone who has to say it aloud on a regular basis. "Yankee" and "Yank" originated as pejoratives and still have that sense, and additionally there's a whole region that uses that term to distinguish its people from those of the Northern United States.

Stepping back a bit, it's sort of weird that everyone's fighting this hard over who does or does not get to refer to themselves by invoking an Italian explorer and cartographer who got two continents named for him thanks to his work with Spain. The nomenclature of the Americas is already a kind of imposition from without, ignored mostly because it's been grandfathered in.
posted by kewb at 12:27 PM on March 2, 2014 [2 favorites]


American onian

I read that as American Onan, as in onanism, which I assume is related to American exceptionalism.
posted by homunculus at 12:32 PM on March 2, 2014 [1 favorite]


N.b Canadian exceptionalism noted; the full formal name of Canada is "Canada."

I long for the days when we were a Dominion. (not really)

Although I do note the existence of this delightful section on other proposed names. Among them:

Tuponia, short for "The United Provinces Of North ['I' word omitted] America", which would have made this discussion a lot more important.

Ursalia, "place of bears." SO MUCH COOLER THAN "CANADA!"
posted by Lemurrhea at 12:36 PM on March 2, 2014 [1 favorite]


Actually, to billiebee's point, this is the first time I've come across the debate, and, like the OP, have used it before in all innocence with no malice intended.

Now, of course, as GenjiandProust articulates so well, I'll be more aware of its use and usage in this community.
posted by infini at 12:38 PM on March 2, 2014 [3 favorites]


I read that as American Onan, as in onanism, which I assume is related to American exceptionalism.

More like American experialism.
posted by kewb at 12:38 PM on March 2, 2014


This is my favourite We.

We works fine in context. Getting around it with some sort of formal policy or guideline would be a complete clusterfuck and we have enough of those already.

When Torontonians say "We," they mean all of Canada. Aww, who am I kidding, Torontonians don't know there's any Canada outside of Toronto.

Not true. Whenever we step a metre or two outside of the city, or further, such as Halifax, Montreal, Quebec City, Moncton, Hamilton, Winnipeg, Flin Fon, Saskatoon, Kelowna, Victoria, Morden, Hull, Leduc, Yorkton, Lethbridge, etc., people there tell us we don't know there's a Canada outside of Toronto, even though we're right fucking there. Some tell us it's a dangerous city full of peril at every corner. Others that it's morally bankrupt. It's hilarious.

I long for the days when we were a Dominion. (not really)

Metro not good enough for you?
posted by juiceCake at 12:57 PM on March 2, 2014 [2 favorites]


I was talking about non-Americans saying they would continue to use it, of which I don't see any.

Well, fair enough. I have no idea what nationality spitbull claims, actually. And I try to assume everybody is acting in reasonable innocence and good faith most of the time (unless I have substantial evidence otherwise), so my "should have known" point was excessive.

What rankles me a lot more than the term itself is the pattern that shows up when any sort of issue around names comes up. If the pattern was:

Member 1: Point about [group] using [name A]
Member 2 from [group]: Hey, we don't like being called [name A]; [lease use [name B].
Member 1: Ooops, sorry. I'll try to do that.
Member 2: Thanks!
*discussion continues*

However, it usually goes:
Member 1: Point about [group] using [name A]
Member 2 from [group]: Hey, we don't like being called [name A]; [lease use [name B].
Member 1: What? I have never heard of that.
Member 2: Well, yeah, lots of people from [group] don't like it.
Member 1: But no one has ever complained before!
Member 2: I'm telling you now.
Member 3: I always use that term! I will keep using it!
Member 4: Dude, you were just asked not to.
Member 3: You can't make me!
Member 2: Jeeze, this is depressing.
*discussion derails completely or maybe goes to MeTa*

It's kind of exhausting, but it pretty much happens any time a group objects to the way it is being named. Now, obviously, some of these fights are more tied into axes of oppression than others, but the pattern is always the same.
posted by GenjiandProust at 1:04 PM on March 2, 2014 [1 favorite]


(Although I am quite liking "Usonian", pace Usonian. It's as un-Spanish as the day is long, and appears to have been coined, or at least recorded, by the Scottish-American James D. Law:
The Irvines, too, on Fortune's flood
Would places reach of high degree.
And one who boasted Irvine blood
Would rule a realm across the sea."

Now see what things have come to life
Since we in sober truth can sing:
The Earl of Fife has got a wife
Whose father, once again is king

And in Usonia's mighty Land -
What almost seems beyond belief—
An offshoot of the Irvine clan
Is honor 'd as the nation's chief!
I have no idea in what way Theodore Roosevelt - if this is referencing him - is a descendant of the Irvine clan, although he did have Scottish ancestry: Here and There in Two Hemispheres is a very odd book.)
posted by running order squabble fest at 1:06 PM on March 2, 2014 [1 favorite]


For what it's worth, a Google Groups search suggests the first usage of USAian is from 1989 in soc.culture.asian.american (as a hypothetical non-preferred term!); it seems to really start showing up starting in 1992, in alt.folklore.urban and elsewhere.

"USian" hit AFU and alt.usage.english in 1991, having apparently first been posted in mod.politics.arms-d (!) in 1987, in a similar "there's not a better term" discussion, along with "USAnian" but not "USAian".

"USAia" seems to pop up in 2000, in alt.religion.kibology and related groups.

"USia" unfortunately stands for "United States Information Agency", making it impossible to Google lazily.
posted by Huffy Puffy at 1:16 PM on March 2, 2014 [4 favorites]


and appears to have been coined, or at least recorded, by the Scottish-American James D. Law:

According to Kenneth Hite, who speaks with great confidence and is right fairly often, Frank Lloyd Wright like usonian because it was not linked to Europe at all, which is kind of interesting.

In other nomenclature issues, I find it bizarre that there doesn't seem to be an official name form for inhabitants of Massachusetts. "Bay Staters" gets used, but that's a nickname. There are, of course, many common names for the people of that state (especially ones used by people from other states), but this detail rankles my librarian's mind. You think people would be proud to be "Massachusetters" or "Massachusians," but evidently not. I've hear it claimed that people from Massachusetts are more likely to identify with Boston or some other city, but I am dubious.
posted by GenjiandProust at 1:19 PM on March 2, 2014


So can anyone explain what's the thing about 'USian' that makes it a term that many people apparently don't appreciate being called?
Because to this Elsewherian, it sounds perfectly innocent, and I'm totally willing to accept that it's not, but it would be even better to also understand that.

I'm fully prepared to avoid using it either way. It's just that I really like understanding things.
posted by Too-Ticky at 1:23 PM on March 2, 2014 [4 favorites]



Nations, the vast majority of them, have both a full, formal name that nobody uses in common speech, and a much-shortened version of the name that is suitable for everyday use and is so used. Examples:

Nation of Brunei, Abode of Peace Brunei
Federal Democratic Republic of Nepal Nepal
Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka Sri Lanka
Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela Venezuela
Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan Jordan
Islamic Republic of Mauritania Mauritania

Now, the full formal name of the nation in that big chunk of the North American continent in between Canada and Mexico is "The United States of America." Its much-shortened everyday name is, therefore, _______. You can fill in the blank with whatever you want to use, and use it. Your own language is yours to police as you like (though no one else's is.) But if you encounter the blank filled in with "America," that is not an example of American exceptionalism or an American appropriation of language. It does not take the names of all the different Americas and redirect them to mean only one. All that is baggage brought to the topic, not meaning found in it. When "America" is used as the name of a country it is no more and no less than an expandable variable that shouts "Expand me!" The country name $(America) expands to "The United States of America" in exactly the same way the country name $(Brunei) expands to "Nation of Brunei, Abode of Peace."


But isn't this a problem with the original naming, rather than those who decry the informal usage of today? Whoever came up with the name "United States of America" either was being rather general (these are states, they're united, and they're in America) or hugely bigoted (these thirteen colonies are America). They were most likely the former and wanted the name to be interpreted that the country was part of America rather than the whole.

That it's been taken the other way is maybe from the antiquated concept of Manifest Destiny where the US really did think that the whole continent of America was theirs for the taking. Now, I'm not seeking to accuse somebody who uses the name "American" as being a supporter of Manifest Destiny and its unfortunate history, but simply arguing for conventional understanding of the name requires an acknowledgement of how that convention came about.

The founders of that fair triskaidekic republic should have called it something like, "United States of Eastern North America". (Or better yet, "United Not-Wholly-Sovereign-So-Don't-Get-Any-Ideas-States of Eastern North America".)
posted by Thing at 1:24 PM on March 2, 2014


Actually, thinking about the use of the term "Continental Congress", I think the founders and namers were likely bigots from the start. They really wanted to embrace the whole of America in their project and damn those who didn't want in.
posted by Thing at 1:29 PM on March 2, 2014 [1 favorite]


(There was apparently some discussion of whether to call the USA USONA - The United States of North America - in diplomatic circles when the Union of South Africa was founded in 1910, but nothing seems to have come of it, and everyone ended up calling it "South Africa".)
posted by running order squabble fest at 1:35 PM on March 2, 2014

Or rather, must every post, even those on price of veg in the UK, devolve into something related to Podunk, NJ?
I'm actually in Podunk, Iowa for what it's worth.

Look: I obviously owe a lot of people an apology for that thread. I really didn't mean to derail it to be about the US. I'm someone who reads budget food blogs because I cook and eat on a budget. I'm not anywhere near as broke as I was when I posted this question way back in my early days on Metafilter, but cooking on the cheap is still a topic that is non-academic to me. When the Guardian started touting Jack Monroe as the newest budget food celebrity, I took a look at her blog a bunch of times and found it incredibly not-very-useful. I think that's partly true for American-related reasons (some things are more expensive here, and apparently all British poor people have apartments with enough natural light to have an herb garden), but it's also partly because I don't think she's really respected for being a food blogger. I think she's respected as a writer about poverty, and for some reason the Guardian insists on talking about her as if she's a food blogger. I should have recognized that she's really a writer about poverty, rather than a budget food blogger, especially since the recent attacks on her haven't in any way been about her food.

So anyway, I posted that I had found her blog not-very-helpful and why, and someone chimed in to express incredulity because he or she shops at a very fancy supermarket in a very expensive London neighborhood, and based on that experience he or she knows that my description of how much things cost in my neck of the woods was wrong. And that sort of punched my every last class-resentment-related button. I should have let it go, but I'm not great at letting things go, especially when they're button-pushy things. So I apologize. I should have realized I was doing the ugly American thing, and I hope that thread can get back on track.
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 1:53 PM on March 2, 2014 [1 favorite]


Actually, thinking about the use of the term "Continental Congress", I think the founders and namers were likely bigots from the start. They really wanted to embrace the whole of America in their project and damn those who didn't want in.

Or, more likely, they were on a continent as opposed to the place that ruled them, Great Britain, and therefore drew a distinction between Britain and the American Colonies on the American Continent. Considering that the US already greenlighted admission of Canada into the US, their use was less about being bigoted and more about using language that conveyed the difference between the Continental Congress and the Parliament of Great Britain.

South Africa and Central Africa don't make any of the other countries in Southern Africa and the middle of Africa less so. They're names of places. North Carolina doesn't somehow have a claim on Canada because it starts with North.

The point is, places have names to distinguish them historically from similar places that it was important to when the name was created. That's history. That's names. It's fine if they're not universally accurate divorced from their historical and geographic context. Hell, Olympia, Washington, USA is still allowed to be called Olympia even though it's not any where the "real" Olympia in Greece or the IOC. That's fine. Really, it is.

I say all of this as someone who used to use USian because I felt that American was not logical. But even though it's not logical, it's the name, it's the convention, and it is understood. It's not even wrong, while the word USian was pretentious and an attempt to impose some sort of "this is how things should be" rather than respecting the perfectly fine convention in place. So, as someone who formerly used it, I was really snobby to use USian.
posted by Lord Chancellor at 2:03 PM on March 2, 2014 [3 favorites]


running order squabble fest: "(There was apparently some discussion of whether to call the USA USONA - The United States of North America - in diplomatic circles when the Union of South Africa was founded in 1910, but nothing seems to have come of it, and everyone ended up calling it "South Africa".)"

It's like they think they own all of southern Africa or something. Is no one concerned for the people of Lesotho and Swaziland, victims of this linguistic land grab?
posted by Rhaomi at 2:05 PM on March 2, 2014 [3 favorites]


South Africa and Central Africa don't make any of the other countries in Southern Africa and the middle of Africa less so. They're names of places. North Carolina doesn't somehow have a claim on Canada because it starts with North.

By this argument the US doesn't have a claim on "American" any more than elsewhere in America, is that correct? I mean that sounds awfully like what everybody on the "USian" side is claiming.

(I accept your point about the Continental Congress. There's no reason for me to put the worst interpretation on the name when it is seemingly rather innocent.)
posted by Thing at 2:20 PM on March 2, 2014


For what it's worth, a Google Groups search suggests the first usage of USAian is from 1989 in soc.culture.asian.american

H. L. Mencken, in "Names for Americans" (1947, American Speech 22:4), traces it to a 1937 article by a Benjamin Stovall ("Now We U-S-ians") published in the Literary Digest.
posted by yoink at 2:23 PM on March 2, 2014 [1 favorite]


By this argument the US doesn't have a claim on "American" any more than elsewhere in America, is that correct? I mean that sounds awfully like what everybody on the "USian" side is claiming.

No, it means that the US has a claim but not an exclusive claim on American. While if you say American in English, it means somewhat relating to the people or land of the United States of America, using African for South Africa is not as useful.

You're looking at names as if they must exclusive and logical and settled, when any digging about the Sea of Japan, the British Isles, or the Persian Gulf show that names are different depending on where they're coming from. In all of those cases, the name is pretty contentious, but usually, with the term America, it isn't. People understand that it's the only place-noun of the USA, and it has historic legacy. No one will stop a Mexican from calling themselves American in English, but it probably won't be as useful. Language is almost entirely governed by conventions in part because it's only useful if people walk away with similar understandings of shared terms. It's not always so, but unless the term is purposefully offensive, we usually let a bit of illogic to survive in naming of persons, places, or things.
posted by Lord Chancellor at 2:29 PM on March 2, 2014


So can anyone explain what's the thing about 'USian' that makes it a term that many people apparently don't appreciate being called?

To quickly summarize the arguments given in this thread:

* It is not the term most Americans use for themselves.

* It is less precise since both Mexico and the USA have "United States" in their names, while the USA is the only nation with America in its name.

* It has a long historical precedent.

* It is often used in a hostile (or at least hectoring and pedantic) manner, so you will be taking a political stance (knowingly or not).

* It does not have a clear pronunciation (yoo see an? you ess ian? oo see an?), all of which sound kind of dumb.

* USian is even worse, since it's annoying to type and say.

* It leads to derails in many threads it is deployed in.
posted by GenjiandProust at 2:43 PM on March 2, 2014 [10 favorites]


Why does it need to be justified? Why not just call people what they wish to be called?
posted by entropicamericana at 2:46 PM on March 2, 2014 [4 favorites]


* It is not the term most Americans use for themselves.

The others are all true but this is, by itself, sufficient. It's rude not to call people what they wish to be called without significant reason to the contrary. And the virtually non-existant "ambiguity" of American isn't a significant reason.
posted by Justinian at 2:47 PM on March 2, 2014 [8 favorites]


The worst are those so-called South Sudanese. Hey South Sudanese, check a map! There are lots of people south of Sudan. I'm gonna call them ROSSians from now on.
posted by Flunkie at 2:49 PM on March 2, 2014


I actually adopted "USian" inconsistently after seeing it used on MetaFilter and having had conversations with several people in Latin American countries about "American"-for-US-people. I thought it was a decent enough workaround, so I use it sometimes; I've relented a bit more and will use "American" for people in/from the US, mostly because "USian" is slightly awkward as a word. It's blowing my mind in a bad way that there's apparently been some history I'm not privy to with the word, and most of the objections raised here are actually evoking exactly the kind of "everyone in the world is an upper middle class white American" assumption that plays a part in the "American We" on English speaking websites.

I'll try to avoid it when I'm here I guess. I'm trying to avoid here generally.
posted by byanyothername at 2:49 PM on March 2, 2014 [3 favorites]


No, it means that the US has a claim but not an exclusive claim on American. While if you say American in English, it means somewhat relating to the people or land of the United States of America, using African for South Africa is not as useful.

But people in the US (and outside) have made their claim to "American" exclusive by using it to refer to the US alone. You can find endless examples of such usage. As you say, language is governed by convention and the convention has shut out all other Americans from the word. If it was not meant to be exclusive it has accidentally become so.

So why, if such a thing has happened not on purpose but by accident, are people from the US so averse to changing it? I admit that "USian" is an ugly word and can understand its rejection (it's not a word I use). But unless people are willing to agree that an alternative should be found, then they must agree with the exclusive use of "American".

It seems that nobody is willing to take responsibility for how the word got its current meaning, but many regard it as imperative that it should keep that meaning.
posted by Thing at 2:51 PM on March 2, 2014 [2 favorites]


Why does it need to be justified? Why not just call people what they wish to be called?

Look, there are lots of circumstances where that's the right approach, but as an absolute it doesn't make any sense.

I think it's pretty okay to call anyone who wants to be called "*insert entire text of treaty of westphalia here*" a jerk instead.
posted by juv3nal at 2:52 PM on March 2, 2014 [1 favorite]


It seems that nobody is willing to take responsibility for how the word got its current meaning

I did it. You caught me.
posted by spaltavian at 2:58 PM on March 2, 2014 [3 favorites]


Since this usage of "America" (and therefore "American") dates to the Continental Congress in 1776, the Federalist Papers, and to George Washington's Farewell Address it really is more than a bit of easily changed nomenclature. It's tied up with Independence and the birth of the country.
posted by Justinian at 2:59 PM on March 2, 2014 [2 favorites]


Frustrating, a thread about how Americans turn every discussion into something about themselves at the expense of other voices and perspectives, ironically (unsurprisingly?) turned by Americans into a discussion all about themselves.

I do wish people had heeded mod requests to drop the derail or made another meta for it, but I suppose the op's point has been thoroughly made for them.
posted by smoke at 3:06 PM on March 2, 2014 [20 favorites]


Everytime I start reading a meta, and it starts ummm..."evolving organically", I expect some dude on here to be all "So...ASL?".
posted by hal_c_on at 3:06 PM on March 2, 2014 [1 favorite]


I guess what shocks me is the assumption that everyone using "USian" is another American, or should be familiar with a particular nuance that isn't readily apparent. The term is an obvious attempt to work around the US' exclusivity of "American," which enough people outside the US have expressed (usually mild) frustration to me about that I can see it as a genuine problem. To then try and reframe everything in terms of how people in (particular classes in) the US feel about it seems...like a callous example of exactly the thing the thread is objecting to.
posted by byanyothername at 3:07 PM on March 2, 2014 [4 favorites]


Too-Ticky: "So can anyone explain what's the thing about 'USian' that makes it a term that many people apparently don't appreciate being called?
Because to this Elsewherian, it sounds perfectly innocent, and I'm totally willing to accept that it's not, but it would be even better to also understand that.
"

It's off-putting to have someone insist that an obscure and grammatically-bizarre word for your nationality is just as accurate and appropriate (if not more so) than the commonly-understood existing word.

USian turns an initialism into an adjective in a way that doesn't really work in English, and it arguably violates a principle that it is supposed to correct. (US = United States. The official name of Mexico, translated into English, is the United States of Mexico.)

Also, it's rude to presume to reassign someone a new nickname and expect them to answer to it. If someone says that her name is Margaret and she goes by either Margaret or Meg, don't insist that she should go by Peggy because you think it clever.
posted by desuetude at 3:07 PM on March 2, 2014 [7 favorites]


What about the United States of Peggy?
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 3:16 PM on March 2, 2014


United States of Pegging
posted by planetesimal at 3:17 PM on March 2, 2014


This all feel very much like, "Why is your nickname Peggy? There's no 'P' in Margaret. You're now Marggy because that's logical" crossed with, "We already have a Margaret in class. Your name is now Sinclair."
posted by Lord Chancellor at 3:44 PM on March 2, 2014 [4 favorites]


Je suis Usiane (Usianne?) doesn't have the same ring to it.
posted by kimberussell at 3:46 PM on March 2, 2014 [1 favorite]


USian turns an initialism into an adjective in a way that doesn't really work in English, and it arguably violates a principle that it is supposed to correct. (US = United States. The official name of Mexico, translated into English, is the United States of Mexico.)

The "official name" of Mexico when translated into English is "United Mexican States." That's UMS. In Spanish, it's Estados Unidos Mexicanos. That's EUM. Neither acronym is in common use in any language. There is no ambiguity, whatever, about "USian." That's a completely spurious objection to the term.

"America" is a word that is used every single day to refer to things other than the United States of America. "The US" is used almost exclusively to refer to the United States. The fact that a sufficient number of people people object (for, to me, inexplicable reasons) to the term is a sufficient reason to deprecate its use; but there's no doubt at all that it is a term that answers to a genuinely felt ambiguity and that objections that it introduces a new ambiguity are simply bogus.
posted by yoink at 3:50 PM on March 2, 2014 [3 favorites]


"America" is a word that is used every single day to refer to things other than the United States of America.

But "American" - in English - is not. "American" (again, in the English language) is understood to mean a person from the United States. "USian" is not a substitution for "America" but "American." I have yet to see any evidence that there is actual ambiguity or confusion when "American" is used to describe someone's citizenship or country of residence. I would be interested to see it.
posted by rtha at 3:54 PM on March 2, 2014 [3 favorites]


"United States of Pegging"

Now, now, there's no need to bring U.S. foreign policy into it…
posted by Pinback at 3:55 PM on March 2, 2014 [2 favorites]


But "American" - in English

Of course it is. "American flora and fauna." "The American Peoples." etc. etc. The very reason I often find myself thinking "damn, what's a more specific term for people-from-the-USA when I'm writing (and thinking "USian...no, wait...for some reason that pisses people off") is when some conversation has been going about some kind of continent-wide issue (i.e. New World vs. Old World) and "American" just seems inherently ambiguous. So you go for "US citizens" or "people in the USA..." or what have you. But if USians didn't piss people off I'd find it genuinely useful.
posted by yoink at 4:02 PM on March 2, 2014 [1 favorite]


Whatever.
posted by a non e mouse at 4:11 PM on March 2, 2014


If people prefer something else, less-awkward alternatives include US-American (as the Germans sometimes do to be clear) or the lovely "estadunidense" used in Brazilian Portuguese and (most) Latin American Spanish. Estadunidense has the added bonus of being familiar to many English-speaking US-Americans because Spanish-speaking US-Americans are our second-largest linguistic group in the US and also they use it a lot on Sesame Street.

Thing: "But people in the US (and outside) have made their claim to "American" exclusive by using it to refer to the US alone.

I can't speak for the rest of the 300 million people in the U.S., but personally I have always used "America" to refer to South America, Central America, the Americas as a group. I don't call them, like, "South New World Continent" or "Skinny Bit in the Middle That's Not Quite In Either Continent" or "What Is Up with Europeans Who Think This Is All One Continent Anyway? It Took Me Years to Figure Out Why They Count Continents Wrong over There." And when one of my relatives from Bolivia says, "We Americans ..." in English as they might say in Spanish to mean "All we folks in the New World here," I neither object to it nor even find it particularly confusing because I understand context and how words can be used more than one way. American-from-the-US and American-from-the-continents-together are not often confused in English and the confusion is relatively easy to clear up. If it's not clear from context, I'll just ask, "Wait, like US Americans or like everybody Americans?" with appropriate hand motions to indicate my imaginary map. No problem.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 4:12 PM on March 2, 2014


The "official name" of Mexico when translated into English is "United Mexican States." That's UMS. In Spanish, it's Estados Unidos Mexicanos.

I'm not a linguist but have always seen it translated as "Mexican United States" or less often as "United States of Mexico." Either way the "united states" part stays together, you don't fold the word "Mexico" into the middle.

The very reason I often find myself thinking "damn, what's a more specific term for people-from-the-USA when I'm writing (and thinking "USian...no, wait...for some reason that pisses people off") is when some conversation has been going about some kind of continent-wide issue (i.e. New World vs. Old World) and "American" just seems inherently ambiguous.

That's when you would normally use "of the Americas."
posted by Dip Flash at 4:18 PM on March 2, 2014 [1 favorite]


Since this usage of "America" (and therefore "American") dates to the Continental Congress in 1776, the Federalist Papers, and to George Washington's Farewell Address it really is more than a bit of easily changed nomenclature. It's tied up with Independence and the birth of the country.

You're right, so you are, then we can put it down to design rather than accident. But all that means is that people from the US have sought, from the very beginning, to exclude other people from using the word to describe themselves. They couldn't rely on the spurious argument, seen so often in this thread as "it's in the name of the country!", because they named the country deliberately so and knew of a time when it had no name at all.

(I don't know what goes through a person's mind when they see that half the known world is called "America" but apply it to themselves and their small corner of that world. New Spain had maybe twice the population of the Thirteen Colonies in the 1770s, but still the Founding Fathers saw fit to appropriate the name. I put it in the same line as "British", which was adopted by English elites around the time they fully annexed Wales and anewed the conquest of Ireland. The main difference seems to be that in the US case it was more a statement of intent than a statement of fact.)

I can't speak for the rest of the 300 million people in the U.S., but personally I have always used "America" to refer to South America, Central America, the Americas as a group. I don't call them, like, "South New World Continent" or "Skinny Bit in the Middle That's Not Quite In Either Continent" or "What Is Up with Europeans Who Think This Is All One Continent Anyway?

You misunderstand my point. I don't mean that "America" can't be used in ways to refer to anywhere or anything on that continent, but rather that it is used to refer to things which happen/are/exist only in the US. You may well say "South American", but you also say "American sports" or "American cuisine" when you mean "US sports" or "US cuisine" and not sports and cooking from anywhere on the continent. It isn't about context and knowing which is meant where and when in a discussion, but rather that it is possible to do this at all.

There can be no America without the US, but it seems that there can be an America with nobody but the US. I think that's the clearest way I can express the problematic usage of the word.
posted by Thing at 4:56 PM on March 2, 2014 [2 favorites]


We are all eyeballkid and not at all amused.
posted by y2karl at 4:58 PM on March 2, 2014 [1 favorite]


yoink: "There is no ambiguity, whatever, about "USian."

Except for the part where it doesn't really work as a word in English.

The US = United States, Mexico is also a "united states" bit was intended to be a tiny little bit facetious. But your very literal and strident response was a great example of the sort of attitude I was referencing, so thumbs up.
posted by desuetude at 5:01 PM on March 2, 2014 [2 favorites]


ArbitraryandCapricious: I posted that I had found her blog not- very-helpful and why, and someone chimed in to express incredulity because he or she shops at a very fancy supermarket in a very expensive London neighborhood, and based on that experience he or she knows that my description of how much things cost in my neck of the woods was wrong.

That's not at all what happened in that thread, and quite unfair.
posted by goo at 5:12 PM on March 2, 2014 [2 favorites]


Estadunidense is actually pretty great as an idea.

(Incidentally, it's "United Mexican States". Mexico having given some thought to what it's going to be called in English, on account of having the US as its hat, at some point around/after the coining of the term in 1824.)
posted by running order squabble fest at 5:17 PM on March 2, 2014


yoink: "America" is a word that is used every single day to refer to things other than the United States of America.

Not in English. In Spanish, yes, but not in English. This claimed need for disambiguation is entirely phony.

Thing: But all that means is that people from the US have sought, from the very beginning, to exclude other people from using the word to describe themselves.

As much as I'm enjoying this 238 years-late outrage, note that it didn't exclude anyone from anything. Had Haitians, and later Mexicans, Brazilians, Peruvians and so on, chose to put the word into their name, the Founding Fathers and their successors couldn't have stopped them. And the eventual usage of the word would have taken a different form. But they didn't, a quarter of a millennium has passed, and in English, Americans are people who live in the only country with American in it's name. I'm sorry history didn't conform to the self-righteous point you want to make.

In Spanish, the words mean different things. I've been told that Americans are sometimes called "norteamericanos", which I find amusing, since I'm not a Greenlander, Mexican, Canadian, Cuban, etc, but that's Spanish, and I have no grounds to insist that "norteamericano" must mean the same exact thing as the English "North American".

But, hey, it looks like Spanish usage is up for debate.
posted by spaltavian at 5:17 PM on March 2, 2014 [6 favorites]


and "American" just seems inherently ambiguous.

Seems? Or is? Drop me anywhere in the non-English-speaking world, and will anyone be confused about where I'm from if I say, in English, that I'm American? (Or, if I suspect I'm in a francophone country, "Je suis Americaine?").
posted by rtha at 5:18 PM on March 2, 2014 [5 favorites]


Incidentally, it's "United Mexican States". Mexico having given some thought to what it's going to be called in English, on account of having the US as its hat, at some point around/after the coining of the term in 1824.

Interestingly, my googling turned up a set of articles about a proposal to drop the "Estados Unidos" part entirely:

With just over a week left in office, the president of Mexico has offered perhaps the boldest proposal of his six-year tenure. He wants Mexico to just be “Mexico.”

The formal name of the country is Estados Unidos Mexicanos, often translated as “United Mexican States” or “United States of Mexico.” ...

“Mexico does not need a name that emulates another country and that none of us Mexicans use every day,” he said Thursday at a morning announcement at the presidential residence.


It apparently went nowhere, but clearly names remain contentious.
posted by Dip Flash at 5:31 PM on March 2, 2014


As much as I'm enjoying this 238 years-late outrage, note that it didn't exclude anyone from anything. Had Haitians, and later Mexicans, Brazilians, Peruvians and so on, chose to put the word into their name, the Founding Fathers and their successors couldn't have stopped them. But they didn't, a quarter of a millennium as passed, and in English, Americans are people who live in the only country with American in it's name. I'm sorry history doesn't conform to the self-righteous point you want to make.

But why would a country put "America" in their name when it is the name of a whole continent? It seems like a rather contentious thing to do.
posted by Thing at 5:39 PM on March 2, 2014 [1 favorite]


Interestingly, my googling turned up a set of articles about a proposal to drop the "Estados Unidos" part entirely:


Yeah - that happens periodically. That one was in 2012. However, it remains the case that The Office of the Mexican Secretary for External Affairs, rather than the New York Times, translates the name of its own country as 'The United Mexican States" - as does the United Nations, although it only generally turns up in court documents.

Not as satisfying aesthetically - especially if you're a journalist on deadline looking for a hook - but it's established usage.
posted by running order squabble fest at 5:44 PM on March 2, 2014 [2 favorites]


But why would a country put "America" in their name when it is the name of a whole continent? It seems like a rather contentious thing to do.

But you know why already: they were originally British (and other) colonists that needed to contrast themselves with the country that they were trying to breakaway from. They were formerly the American colonies of the British Empire. As they weren't part of an empire, not colonies, and no longer British, the fact they were on the American continent was the one piece of their identity that remained intact. They still spoke English, even. Though there was New Spain and Brazil here, the fact that New England and other areas were on the Continent in the Americas meant they chose to identify with that (read Thomas Paine's Common Sense where he deliberately contrasts Great Britain the Island with America the Continent).

For the founders and other former colonists they were Americans instead of British, to break off from the American Colonist identity they had for a hundred or so years. That's why right there. And that's fine. It makes sense, from the historical context.
posted by Lord Chancellor at 5:50 PM on March 2, 2014 [6 favorites]


But why would a country put "America" in their name when it is the name of a whole continent? It seems like a rather contentious thing to do.

For the same reason that the European Union calls itself that despite not including every country in Europe and its currency is called the euro despite not being the currency of all countries on the European continent.
]
At the time of the USA's founding, the idea was for something more like a confederacy of thirteen states than a unified federalist state. Thus, the United States of America, meaning quite literally, a union of states on the (North) American continent. When the system shifted to a federal state with a stronger national government for practical political purposes, the name was established in usage both here and abroad. This was not a conspiracy of exclusionist Founding Fathers so much as the product of a) a need to distinguish the independent nation from the colonies surrounding it; and b) ease of use.

Indeed, much of why other parts of the Americas do not historically use "America" as a demonym is that their colonizers wished very much to maintain their ties to the metropole. The Spanish Empire was hardly keen on its colonists calling themselves or thinking of themselves as "Americans;" they saw how that worked out for the British, for one thing. Indeed, the area was referred to officially as "New Spain," not "Spanish America" or any similar demonym.

The notion of people outside of the United States wishing to refer to themselves as "Americans" is relatively recent, and reflects a resentment -- admittedly well-founded -- of American hegemony dating to the decline of the colonial empires. The contestation of "America" as demonym is political, occurs almost entirely in Spain and former Spanish colonies, and is something of a volte-face in those communities when examined against the historical backdrop.
posted by kewb at 5:50 PM on March 2, 2014 [8 favorites]


Thing: But why would a country put "America" in their name when it is the name of a whole continent?

In English, "America" doesn't refer to a whole continent. The closest you're going to get is "the Americas".

I don't really know why the Founders chose that formulation. I don't know if they meant it to mean their polity was all of "America" or not. There's no reason to assume the Founders were all thinking the same thing at the time. Since there were no other self-governing Westphalian-style states in the New World at the time, I'm sure it would have seemed like a moot point.

Americans don't really think in pan-continental terms. The Revolution was as much as a war of unification as independence, so for Americans their political and cultural in-grouping overlap almost exactly. If there was every a "continental" feeling to "America" in the United States, it's been long obsolete. This didn't happen in Latin American, where independence was secured, by unification wasn't, so there is still some need for a trans-national identity.

I suspect this is why the use of the word America is divergent between the two groups. Each usage is fine in its respective language. There's no reason to force one usage on the other.
posted by spaltavian at 5:52 PM on March 2, 2014 [1 favorite]


That's why right there

It was a joke.
posted by Thing at 5:52 PM on March 2, 2014


60% of the people who speak English as their first langauge are Americans.
Of course we are going to dominate the conversation. There are more of us.
posted by Flood at 5:52 PM on March 2, 2014


In English, "America" doesn't refer to a whole continent. The closest you're going to get is "the Americas".

Um, what? The country in question is called "United States of America" not "United States of the Americas" or "United States of North America". The name was taken from the continent, however well or ill advised.
posted by Thing at 6:06 PM on March 2, 2014


60% of the people who speak English as their first langauge are Americans.

I don't think the entire English-speaking world is currently on MetaFilter, though. This thread has taken on a more continental perspective due to the increasingly off-kilter USian derail, but at heart it's a question about site culture, not the demographics of the Angloverse.

In those terms, MetaFilter doesn't follow the demographic composition of the Angloverse. It is, I would hazard without feeling at any serious risk of contradiction, more male, more American (by which I mean occupants of the USA), whiter, better educated and more affluent than simple statistical correspondence would make it.

The "when we say 'we'" thing is, if you flatten it out a bit and ignore the USian derail, more about site culture than about the USA or the Angloverse. There is if not a monoculture certainly a dominant culture on MetaFilter - which isn't a bug, but also isn't a feature. It's just a quality.

You can engineer that culture to an extent - like, I would again say with a reasonable degree of confidence that there are more women here now than there were in 2007. Which is partly a function of changes in the target market, and partly a function of changes in the site culture, which were in part driven from above.

(That said, I don't see a "let's get more Bermudans onto MetaFilter" drive as something that would be popular or required.)

So, I read the original post to this MeTa as saying "there is a dominant culture here, which is not likely to change quickly; could members of the dominant culture try to be considerate of the minority cultures?" How much 'we' relates to that I think is another question.
posted by running order squabble fest at 6:10 PM on March 2, 2014 [2 favorites]


At this point, I'd be happy if we could just get an agreement to stop posters acting like the weather they're experiencing is the weather everyone is experiencing.
posted by gadge emeritus at 6:11 PM on March 2, 2014 [5 favorites]


60% of the people who speak English as their first langauge are Americans. Of course we are going to dominate the conversation. There are more of us.

Even assuming that's true, is it a good reason to not be mindful of how we are speaking to the community to encourage broad participation? I don't think so. If nothing else, it's just good manners and clearer writing.
posted by GenjiandProust at 6:14 PM on March 2, 2014 [3 favorites]


(The language/culture thing is really interesting. Like, there are about half as many Nigerians as there are Americans, and many, many more Indians, all of whom have English as their home country's official language, but time zone, culture, affluence, language comfort, existing social structures, Internet access and all sorts of other factors make people in Nigeria and India far less represented in the general-interest online community Angloverse than in, say, the business Angloverse. Although of course there are also people who will feel unable to contribute to MetaFilter due to a lack of confidence in their written English, or a lack of a recognized payment option, but who still read it. So, yeah. Interesting. Anyway, just thinking aloud now.)
posted by running order squabble fest at 6:21 PM on March 2, 2014 [2 favorites]


Remember that Firesign Theater bit where they sang "Vespucci-land, Vespucci-land"?

That shit was funny.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 7:00 PM on March 2, 2014


We are all eyeballkid and not at all amused.

This thread is making me roll all the eyes.
posted by eyeballkid at 8:10 PM on March 2, 2014 [3 favorites]


Basically, people need to get over themselves. Seldom is anyone particulary confused by "American" and seldom is "you-ess-Ian" used insultingly. In both cases, context counts. "Fucking American assholes" is insulting, "the government has promised not to spy on USians" is not. Context and growing up are the key factors in determining your reaction to seeing either of these words.
posted by five fresh fish at 10:56 PM on March 2, 2014 [5 favorites]


Metafilter: much ado about nothing
posted by Old Man McKay at 10:59 PM on March 2, 2014 [1 favorite]


60% of the people who speak English as their first langauge are Americans.
Of course we are going to dominate the conversation. There are more of us.


Why would the conversation be limited to those who speak English as their first language, though? On this website, it's not. So whether or not that number is correct, I'm not sure it's all that relevant.
posted by Too-Ticky at 12:01 AM on March 3, 2014 [4 favorites]


60% of the people who speak English as their first langauge are Americans

Cite please.

Also, do you mean US-Americans or inhabitants of the Americas?
posted by pompomtom at 4:01 AM on March 3, 2014


He means USians!

oops
posted by flapjax at midnite at 4:02 AM on March 3, 2014 [4 favorites]


Threads like this make me so frustrated with metafilter, or rather some of the user base. The op makes a mild mannered request, people focus on a word the op chose to use to the exclusion of their actual point, the op apologises, the debate continues about the bloody word.

Honestly, I kind of want to tell the citizens of the United States posting in this thread to check their privilege. This thread reminds me of nothing more than a thread about minority issues being derailed by an unfortunate turn of phrase in the op. Which, you know, I'm not suggesting that people who aren't living in the US are oppressed on this website, but I do think this conversation has followed the form of a majority shouting out a minority.

Lets quote the op again:

Since not everyone is USian, I think it would be a good idea for people to refrain when possible from using "we" when discussing the people of the United States. This especially rankles when discussing military action, as in "we should drop a nuclear weapon," as even fellow citizens may not want to be included in that "we".

I realize 99.99% of MeFites don't mean to be overtly American and it's just how people speak, but I think it would make things more civil if "we" wasn't used as often. Apologies if this has been brought up in MeTa before; I tried searching for past discussions on this but "we" being so common it was hard.


I mean, super apologetic right? And clearly about the use of "we", and the cultural assumptions flowing from that. I am super grateful for those of you who actually engaged with this, even if you disagreed. For the record, as a UK citizen I am not actually that bothered by the "we", as I think it is a phrase that can be parsed as meaning "the group to which I belong", but I wouldn't mind if people were a bit more mindful about what they post. I'd be grateful if people were more mindful in general.
posted by Cannon Fodder at 4:55 AM on March 3, 2014 [13 favorites]


Oh, and not only did the op apologise for their use of the word, the mods encouraged us to move on from a debate about the sodding word! ARGHHHH!

Yes, note at the bottom of the page, I DO need a hug.
posted by Cannon Fodder at 4:57 AM on March 3, 2014


We're going to go take another walk now....
posted by HuronBob at 5:00 AM on March 3, 2014


Yes, note at the bottom of the page, I DO need a hug.

We don't do that sort of thing in the States. If you want a hug, make your own and stop relying on hugouts.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 6:07 AM on March 3, 2014 [3 favorites]


Citation, Thank you.
60% of the people who speak English as their first language are Americans

Also, do you mean US-Americans or inhabitants of the Americas?
As a citizen of the United States, when I use the term American, I mean: citizen of the United States. Isn't that the point of what the Americans on this thread are saying? That we, as a cultural group, have linguistic characteristics relating to way we us our language - and that includes calling ourselves "American" and referring to our collective population as "we".
posted by Flood at 6:19 AM on March 3, 2014


Oh, and not only did the op apologise for their use of the word, the mods encouraged us to move on from a debate about the sodding word! ARGHHHH!

To be honest, I was under the impression that most people had read the OP's request, decided that it was reasonable enough and not really something that needed to be debated much, then went to have a little fun about an issue that you can't really serious, can you?

Because frankly, the objection of subset of MeFites to USian strikes me on the same level as the irritation over the use of @[user], a stylistic quirk some people get more het up about than's probably good for them, but it's only polite not to use it as a stick to poke them with.

Nobody was actually serious about seeing USian as a slur, were they?
posted by MartinWisse at 6:20 AM on March 3, 2014 [1 favorite]


No, we weren't.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 6:41 AM on March 3, 2014


Nobody was actually serious about seeing USian as a slur, were they?

It comes off as passive aggressive slur and the awful sound doesn't help at all.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 6:52 AM on March 3, 2014 [3 favorites]


I see several comments upthread in which people say USAian it isn't a slur or isnt' offensive, but that they dislike the word or find it annoying. That's not, however, a uniform opinion as Brandon Blatcher's comment above demonstrates.
posted by Area Man at 6:55 AM on March 3, 2014 [1 favorite]


> we, as a cultural group, have linguistic characteristics relating to way we us our language - and that includes (...) referring to our collective population as "we".

Oh, we do that too. Of course, if we say 'we', we mean us, not US. Us being us, and US being y'all.
Clear as mud, I hope.
posted by Too-Ticky at 7:00 AM on March 3, 2014 [1 favorite]


I dunno, the American "we" is just a particular element of political rhetoric. A lot of "us" (Americanskis) find it natural. I'm sure I use it all the time, even though I also self-consciously use "the United States" for the sorta geopolitical actor, and sometimes "our rulers" for the government.

I don't think we (Mefites) can say, I find this particular rhetorical element unconvincing or inapplicable, so shut it down.

And in this case I don't think the "offensive" label fits, although perhaps I misunderstand.

And I haven't seen any confusion over national identity get out of hand. Maybe there is sometimes an ambiguous "we," but occasional ambiguity is just not a problem you can fix.
posted by grobstein at 7:03 AM on March 3, 2014


OTOH, Martin, while most people seem to use USian as just an abbreviation, nobody hectors people about how just using their own names is bad and immoral and really using @name is objectively better than using their own name.

Imagine if it were common for people on the intarwebs to call the Netherlands, I dunno, Rhinemouth (and the Dutch RMers) usually just as a misguided abbreviation but sometimes because "The Netherlands" or Nederland is a bad name to use. After all, there are many other low-lying nations in the world, including the far more populous Bangladesh and many island nations, so it is wrong and bad to claim to be THE netherlands as if those hundreds of millions of people just didn't exist.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 7:12 AM on March 3, 2014 [6 favorites]


Yeah, that analogy doesn't really work, because USian is not derived from some strange fantasy name, but from the very commonly used 'USA' or 'US'.
I've not heard any of the residents of that country request that we don't call it that. It's just the form 'USian' that some people apparently dislike.

It's more analogous to calling the Dutch 'Netherlanders' because Dutch is obviously wrong because it's way too similar to the German word for German, being 'Deutsch'.

In which case I would say, knock yourself out, I'm fine with being called a Netherlander.
posted by Too-Ticky at 7:36 AM on March 3, 2014


I'm just going to sit in the corner, banging my head against the wall. Don't mind me.
posted by Cannon Fodder at 7:40 AM on March 3, 2014 [3 favorites]


I dunno, the American "we" is just a particular element of political rhetoric. A lot of "us" (Americanskis) find it natural. I'm sure I use it all the time, even though I also self-consciously use "the United States" for the sorta geopolitical actor, and sometimes "our rulers" for the government.

It's a real problem of context, though, since "we" needs to belong to the reader as much as to the speaker. The word is sort of aggressively categorizing, demanding that you identify with the speaker as part of that "we" by default.

After all, there are many other low-lying nations in the world, including the far more populous Bangladesh and many island nations, so it is wrong and bad to claim to be THE netherlands as if those hundreds of millions of people just didn't exist.

Ecuadorian should be similarly problematic; there are plenty of other equatorial peoples and nations, including Hispanophone residents of Equatorial Guinea. Are they being unfairly excluded from the geographically-derived national demonym "Ecuadorian?" South Africa was mentioned earlier, and there are of course plenty of countries in the southern portion of Africa; there are loads of countries along the Congo river as well. Yet we see little contestation of "South African" and "Congolese."

"American" in the sense of "pan-American" is also a bit problematic, since historically it was a designation that emerged from Monroe Doctrinaire hegemony and, yes, ideas akin to Manifest Destiny. The response to this hegemony was 19th century nationalism in South and southern North America (usually called Central America), which seized upon specific national designations over identification with "America" as a unifying term. Because of the considerable cultural and linguistic difference from the United States, much of it created by U.S. hegemony, pan-Latinism seems to have been more politically powerful in recent decades than pan-Americanism.

Part of the issue, too, is that "American" has become part of a whole lot of U.S.-specific designators. Are African-Americans participating in hegemony when they use that term to label themselves as people in the United States of African descent, for example? Shall we now demand that this nomenclature become "Afro-USians" or something similar? On the other hand, doesn't referring to Afro-Cubans, African-Americans, Afro-Brasilians, and Hatians as "African-Americans" flatten and ignore the very significant distinctions of experience and history among such people? If "American" loses its established sense as

In a lot of ways, broadening "American" so that it refers to anyone from the Americas means that there are almost no contexts in which it remains useful; the Americas are so diverse that, without some degree of national specificity, ideas such as "American cuisine" or "American culture" become empty categories, perversely achieving the homogenization of particulars rather than the production of a sense of mutual belonging.

This is the real problem with the continentalist approach to the word "American;" it misapplies the reasons nearly every other continentalist demonym has fallen *out* of usage. Isn't it vaguely insulting for an outsider to make statements about, say, "Asians" or "Africans?"

I agree that within Hispanophone and Lusophone cultures there's a strong argument for the use of "norteamericano," "estadunidense," and so on, but I do not think there's an equally strong argument for that notion in Anglophone, Francopohone, Teutonophone, Italophone and other linguistic-cultural communities. (Sinophone culture has the advantage of having two entirely different words for the continent and the nation.) But in that case, then "American" vs. "estadunidense" is a bit more like, say "Deutsch" vs. "German" or "Aleman;" more a cultural translation with intracultural historical specificity than a ready substitute for United States residents to employ as self-reference.

It might be interesting to see what various Hispanophone and Lusophone communities within the United States employ as their demonym of choice as well; that could suggest something about usage patterns, modes of cultural belonging, and potential transformations in the use of the various United States demonyms more generally.
posted by kewb at 7:41 AM on March 3, 2014 [1 favorite]


I should say, little contestation of "Congolese" except among countries who use the word "Congo" in their names.
posted by kewb at 7:44 AM on March 3, 2014


I see several comments upthread in which people say USAian it isn't a slur or isnt' offensive, but that they dislike the word or find it annoying. That's not, however, a uniform opinion...

Pretty much. It bothers some (on a sliding scale) while others aren't bothered at all. At best one can use it, knowing it might be derail or choose different wording. That's really just about it.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 7:54 AM on March 3, 2014 [1 favorite]


While we're discussing alternative ways to describe US Americans, I'd like to vote against "citizens of the US," as I think somebody could probably feel like an American [or whatever] without having citizenship.
posted by salvia at 8:01 AM on March 3, 2014 [2 favorites]


Yes, note at the bottom of the page, I DO need a hug.

We don't do that sort of thing in the States. If you want a hug, make your own and stop relying on hugouts.

As a UK citizen, he has access to the National Hug System.
posted by ersatz at 8:03 AM on March 3, 2014 [4 favorites]


As a UK citizen, he has access to the National Hug System.

Socialism! Whatever happened to pulling yourself up by your hugstraps? How far the UK has fallen from the glorious days of Hugger's Prison and the Hughouses!
posted by GenjiandProust at 8:10 AM on March 3, 2014 [2 favorites]


We should drop a nuclear weapon on this thread.

see what I did there?
posted by davejay at 8:12 AM on March 3, 2014 [2 favorites]


You and who else?
posted by Too-Ticky at 8:13 AM on March 3, 2014


Watch out socialized huggers... Looks like your National Hug Data was just leaked...
posted by chapps at 8:19 AM on March 3, 2014 [2 favorites]


It's not as bad in the States as it was thanks to the Affordable Embrace Act, which requires most people in the U.S. to set up a plan with a Private Hug Provider to obtain or pay a penalty to the government.
posted by kewb at 8:39 AM on March 3, 2014 [2 favorites]


oh jeez not another ObamaClasp booster
posted by cortex (staff) at 8:42 AM on March 3, 2014 [1 favorite]


Watch out socialized huggers.

In Finland, the hugs sneak up on you with random hugging points.
posted by infini at 8:51 AM on March 3, 2014 [1 favorite]


We're all going to hell in a hugbasket I tell you what.
posted by rtha at 8:52 AM on March 3, 2014 [1 favorite]


So how's that Affordable Cuddle Act working out for you?
posted by Too-Ticky at 8:53 AM on March 3, 2014 [3 favorites]


60%of the people who speak English as their first langauge are Americans

I don't know about those cites of yours.... The UK one is from the mid nineties and I didn't see your cite in there (I only skimmed though because of the age of the cites) and the Wikipedia cite has India with 250,226,000 English speakers with 226,000 ENglish first language and 125,000,000 English as an additional language. Where is the other 125,000,000 English speakers?

The whole idea of a first language is kind of weird anyway, am I the only person that knows tonnes of people that were raised from birth learning two or more languages simultaneously? They don't have a "first language". The Canadian census allows for two "first languages", I don't know if other census' do? Most English speakers I know from India consider themselves first speakers of English and [another language] as they have spoken both all their lives, but would probably identify the regional dialect or language as their "first language" because of complicated cultural feelings.
posted by saucysault at 9:07 AM on March 3, 2014 [1 favorite]


Yeah, and at the basketball games you can't yell "we won" even if you did, because, in reality, it was they that did. It. But still we. Unless you are them. If you are them, then you'll know what we mean when we say we, and you can clue in any of your friends who mistakenly thought you were one of us. If you don't, you are probably one of them, and nobody will notice.

You ought see what contortions I went through during that last administration, trying to position myself so that folks would realize that, yeah, I'm an American, but I'm not one of them.

I was one of those.

It could have been worse. If I had been a Dixie Chick, I would have had to go through all this shit for nothing.
posted by mule98J at 9:09 AM on March 3, 2014


I've heard that hugcare.gov is working much better now.
posted by Area Man at 9:10 AM on March 3, 2014 [1 favorite]


Socialism! Whatever happened to pulling yourself up by your hugstraps? How far the UK has fallen from the glorious days of Hugger's Prison and the Hughouses!

Clement Snugglee has a lot to answer for.
posted by running order squabble fest at 9:11 AM on March 3, 2014 [3 favorites]


I was one of those.

Canadian outside the US?
posted by MartinWisse at 9:33 AM on March 3, 2014


To be honest, I was under the impression that most people had read the OP's request, decided that it was reasonable enough

it's been awhile since the beginning of this thread but my impression, possibly driven by annoyance, was that a lot of people thought "no, this is a website created by an american with a 70% user population from the US so it's to be expected and everyone else should probably just get used to that."

thanks to the people that tried to respond from the minority opinion. like that comment by Catseye about how americans just want to talk about themselves in every conversation? i hear ya and i guess the only thing i can do is flag appropriately if i see BUT IN THE US derails or whatever. i've done it myself, and i think in small doses it's the normal give-take flow of conversation, but when you're surrounded by americans and all of our snowflake opinions must be displayed, yeah that sounds annoying. i don't think it's asking any more of me than the expectation to not derail things already, or not assuming that everyone is white/male/etc.

to me this USian derail was more obnoxious than anyone who uses USian even for purposes of tweaking/belittlement/preciousness. to the people who innocently used this word and have decided not to bc of the... response here, that is generous. i wish i were that level of helpful/empathetic all the time. i don't care about the word, but i like people being nice.

i don't want to weigh in on USian except to say that as an american it is really hard for that being-an-american part of my identity to feel under attack. there are words in the world that can ruin my mood for days, but no stereotype or slur or belittlement associated with being an american has the power to do that to me. it would be different if i lived abroad and i was surrounded by people that just hammered me every day about US foreign policy or something, especially considering i probably agree with those opinions, but this, again, is not that. you might as well be insulting (or mislabeling or whatever the appropriate analogy is) my right-handedness or lack of disability or cisgenderness. there was no reason that i can see for this entire thread to be about that, and the comments that this is an example of privilege ring true to me.

i guess i can also flag any USian derails in the future since it's an allowed word. just link to this thread (or this) next time.
posted by twist my arm at 9:38 AM on March 3, 2014 [4 favorites]


I warned you guys that a specter is hugging MetaFilter....
posted by GenjiandProust at 9:50 AM on March 3, 2014


The whole idea of a first language is kind of weird anyway,

be honest, folks. we all started with Gibberish.
posted by philip-random at 9:58 AM on March 3, 2014 [2 favorites]


*reaches out with long wavy fingers for GenjiandProust*
posted by hugbucket at 10:17 AM on March 3, 2014 [1 favorite]


For that matter, grabs rtha and kisses and snuggles and then generally runs through the thread, since cortex let me loose for just 5 mins, spreading cheer and joy at every notable corner and cranny...
posted by hugbucket at 10:18 AM on March 3, 2014 [1 favorite]


> Nobody was actually serious about seeing USian as a slur, were they?

Not me, anyway, and I speak for all Americans whether they like it or not. It's IMHO likely that mefi regulars may have been oversensitized to language policing since it is so common on the site, and therefore may have lept to the conclusion that the OP's entirely gracious request re. we (Americans) vs. we (USians) vs. we (all other possible inclusions/exclusions) is just the thin end of the camel's nose, and this particular locution is going to slippery-slope its way to being yet another thing one may not say or must say here. (My own unruffled meh regarding USians is due to inherent wickedness; all the other mandated/forbidden locutions get equally unruffled mehs from me also.)
posted by jfuller at 10:46 AM on March 3, 2014 [1 favorite]


"Of course it is. "American flora and fauna." "The American Peoples." etc. etc. The very reason I often find myself thinking "damn, what's a more specific term for people-from-the-USA when I'm writing (and thinking "USian...no, wait...for some reason that pisses people off") is when some conversation has been going about some kind of continent-wide issue (i.e. New World vs. Old World) and "American" just seems inherently ambiguous. So you go for "US citizens" or "people in the USA..." or what have you. But if USians didn't piss people off I'd find it genuinely useful."

LOL. "American flora and fauna" is pretty useless — check UR googles, man. All your hits come back as prepending North or South, except for a couple that refer explicitly to American estadas unidos. Likewise, the "American peoples" comes back to Americans.

As for the long-ground axe on Menken, c'mon, that people have used USanian or any other jib-jab in the pre-war cattywampus carries as much weight as petulant insistence on "Ahoy-hoy!" because, well, Bell used it!

I've had to surrender my personal peeve around "Michigander" (that Lincolnian insult!) because Michiganian just hasn't had the traction.

"The name was taken from the continent, however well or ill advised."

Yeah, well, we were the first to declare independence, so we got to come up with the name. And, as a concurrent point — it really means fuck-all what Brits think of what we call ourselves. That's part of the point.
posted by klangklangston at 11:23 AM on March 3, 2014 [4 favorites]


it's been awhile since the beginning of this thread but my impression, possibly driven by annoyance, was that a lot of people thought "no, this is a website created by an american with a 70% user population from the US so it's to be expected and everyone else should probably just get used to that."


No, I think a lot of people thought "What kind of an idiot assumes a random use of the word 'we' on a message board is meant to include everyone on the website?" THEN, they thought the other thing.
posted by entropicamericana at 11:29 AM on March 3, 2014 [4 favorites]


Likewise, the "American peoples" comes back to Americans.

Ahem.
posted by yoink at 11:38 AM on March 3, 2014


Oh, and as to "American fauna" you'll want to try running a Google search that excludes the more common phrases "North/South American fauna" (you can use the "minus" sign to exclude them). If you want an example of a completely ambiguous usage, try searching for this complete sentence: "For Buffon, the immaturity of the American fauna served to elevate the "maturity" of the European fauna and the superiority of the Old Continent."

Tell me, is he referring to the country or to the continent(s) there? Would you have any similar doubt if he'd written "USian"?
posted by yoink at 11:46 AM on March 3, 2014 [1 favorite]


He's referring to the country, of course. That's a complete no-brainer.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 11:49 AM on March 3, 2014


I've had to surrender my personal peeve around "Michigander" (that Lincolnian insult!) because Michiganian just hasn't had the traction.

I'd always liked Michigander because it suggested the existence of Michigoose as a term, but now I find it's a put-down....
posted by GenjiandProust at 11:50 AM on March 3, 2014 [1 favorite]


yoink, I think the more common way to disambiguate that kind of usage, for speakers from the US anyway, would be that the whole-continents usage has a descriptor attached ("North and South American fauna" "guide to North American trees"), and if it's just a bare 'American' the presumption is it's referring to the one country.
posted by LobsterMitten (staff) at 11:51 AM on March 3, 2014 [1 favorite]


The vast majority of people on this site are heterosexual, right? And so less than 30% are gay? So when we say, "Us straight people", shouldn't that be allowed as a default also, since, I mean come on, most of us are straight anyways?

/s
posted by suedehead at 11:51 AM on March 3, 2014 [3 favorites]


strikes me on the same level as the irritation over the use of @[user], a stylistic quirk some people get more het up about than's probably good for them

Heyyyyyyyyy.....
posted by Justinian at 11:59 AM on March 3, 2014 [2 favorites]


yoink: "If you want an example of a completely ambiguous usage, try searching for this complete sentence: "For Buffon, the immaturity of the American fauna served to elevate the "maturity" of the European fauna and the superiority of the Old Continent."

Tell me, is he referring to the country or to the continent(s) there? Would you have any similar doubt if he'd written "USian"?
"

It depends. How patriotic are the flora and fauna? Do they always stop at a designated border crossing and allow their papers to be checked, or would they randomly wander across the invisible line invented by humans as if it's not even there?
posted by desuetude at 12:03 PM on March 3, 2014 [2 favorites]


Yeah, well, we were the first to declare independence, so we got to come up with the name. And, as a concurrent point — it really means fuck-all what Brits think of what we call ourselves. That's part of the point.

It seems to be that some people from the US care fuck all about what anybody thinks of their name. I hardly think you're "sticking it to the man" by stealing a name from Costa Ricans and Chileans (and besides, how long since was the UK "the man" to stick it to? Long time to grind that axe my friend, must be little of it left by now.)
posted by Thing at 12:07 PM on March 3, 2014 [3 favorites]


He's referring to the country, of course. That's a complete no-brainer.

And the fact that if you look at the passage in context it's clear that he's referring to the continent perfectly proves my point that the term itself is inherently ambiguous. Thank you.

Let me reiterate, seeing as the thread has gone a long way since I was participating in it before, that I am NOT arguing that people should use USian, NOR arguing that people who dislike it ought not to feel that way. I'm simply pointing out that the felt need for the term arises from a genuine desire for specificity when the available terms feel inadequately clear.

The fact that a sizable number of the people the term refers to dislike it is enough to settle the question of whether or not it should be used. But it is worth being clear both on the fact that the term (and cognate terms) have a long history, and that it does not arise from any of the more nefarious impulses that some people here seem to imagine.
posted by yoink at 12:15 PM on March 3, 2014 [1 favorite]


Coasta Rica and Chile (as nation-states) didn't even exist when Thomas Paine coined "The United States of America".
posted by Lord Chancellor at 12:21 PM on March 3, 2014 [2 favorites]


And the fact that if you look at the passage in context it's clear that he's referring to the continent perfectly proves my point that the term itself is inherently ambiguous. Thank you.

I did look at it before replying. The sentence before the one you took out of context explicitly mentions Virginia, which just screams America the country to modern ears.

If anything, you should have taken a different sentence of context from a 1700s book to attempt to prove your point.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 12:26 PM on March 3, 2014


Stripping something from context isn't a super useful way of assessing its practical ambiguity, in any case. Language does not exist in practice as a series of vacuum-sealed lexemes that happen to be sitting together on a shelf; a phrase, a sentence, a paragraph is a thing that's more than the sum of its constituent parts.

If the answer to "but what does 'American' mean?" is "that depends on the context", that's actually pretty much just a normal day at the office for natural language.
posted by cortex (staff) at 12:31 PM on March 3, 2014 [7 favorites]


And the fact that if you look at the passage in context it's clear that he's referring to the continent perfectly proves my point that the term itself is inherently ambiguous. Thank you.

You have not at all demonstrated that this ambiguity applies to residents of the United States of America. Can you find and link to any genuine confusion that has arisen because someone has said "I'm an American, and [blah blah blah]" and the audience wonders if the speaker is from Chile or Canada or someplace else on the North/Central/South American continents?
posted by rtha at 12:33 PM on March 3, 2014 [4 favorites]


"Ahem."

Something caught in your throat?

"Oh, and as to "American fauna" you'll want to try running a Google search that excludes the more common phrases "North/South American fauna" (you can use the "minus" sign to exclude them)."

Why would I? If the more common usage is to remove ambiguity by prepending North or South, that would go against your contention that "American flora and fauna" is a common phrase that needs the remedy "USian."

If you want an example of a completely ambiguous usage, try searching for this complete sentence: "For Buffon, the immaturity of the American fauna served to elevate the "maturity" of the European fauna and the superiority of the Old Continent."

Tell me, is he referring to the country or to the continent(s) there? Would you have any similar doubt if he'd written "USian"?


You know why that's not completely ambiguous? Buffon was specifically describing North American fauna, and was writing in 1766! Ahoy hoy!

"It seems to be that some people from the US care fuck all about what anybody thinks of their name. I hardly think you're "sticking it to the man" by stealing a name from Costa Ricans and Chileans (and besides, how long since was the UK "the man" to stick it to? Long time to grind that axe my friend, must be little of it left by now.)"

If the Costa Ricans wanted it, they should have become independent before 1776. And I know that Brits have a hard time remembering their South American geography — like which of the Falklands are theirs — but America's in Argentina.

"And the fact that if you look at the passage in context it's clear that he's referring to the continent perfectly proves my point that the term itself is inherently ambiguous. Thank you."

Not really. It was in where is now Virginia, but wasn't the good ol' US of A yet. It proves that you can cherry-pick an example from 300 years ago of dubious utility and prove that you're confused over it, but that's a risk I'm willing to take.

"Let me reiterate, seeing as the thread has gone a long way since I was participating in it before, that I am NOT arguing that people should use USian, NOR arguing that people who dislike it ought not to feel that way. I'm simply pointing out that the felt need for the term arises from a genuine desire for specificity when the available terms feel inadequately clear."

And I'm not all that upset about it, I'm just pointing out that it's of dubious utility and the desire for specificity is often thin as fairy wings when you actually examine it. For me, it's like watching people contort themselves in knots to prove that the serial comma is a linguistic necessary instead of a aesthetic choice with a lot of weird class baggage to it. People who insist upon it to clear up "ambiguity" should be bright enough to realize that it's not the best choice to clear up said ambiguity, and that said ambiguity is mostly a fantod conjured of febrile notions of language and nationalism.
posted by klangklangston at 12:35 PM on March 3, 2014 [1 favorite]


Is the idea that the historic "theft" of the word American is to be punished by branding U.S. persons with the label USAians?

Other equally despicable acts of theft:

1. The word "British" when used in any context that doesn't recognize that Ireland (north and south) is also one of the British Isles. Once the Republic of Ireland became indepenent (or perhaps once the Free State was established), the term should have only been used in those contexts which also encompassed Ireland.

2. The names of the European Union and the Euro despite the fact that not all countries in Europe are members. Who are they to claim to be "the" european union?

3. Certain names for the Dutch Republic like the "United Provinces" or the "Republic of the Seven United Provinces" that don't account for the fact that other groups of provinces might someday wish to unite. Shouldn't any decision to name a country take account of such future possibilities?

4. The names South Africa and the Republic of South Africa when there are other countries in the south of Africa, some of which are even republics. How dare they claim to be "the" Republic of South Africa? Botswana is also a republic. Shouldn't South Africa recognize that it is only one of the republics of south Africa?

How guilty do most British people feel about "stealing" the word "British" from the Irish? I'm guessing about as guilty as people in the U.S. do about this horrible, heinous theft of the word American.
posted by Area Man at 12:47 PM on March 3, 2014 [1 favorite]


The cites you're arguing over aren't Buffon - they are Thomas K Murphy. He's using "American" to mean "of the American Continent", while talking about Buffon and de Pauw and their crazy racist pre-Darwinian views of nature. Buffon calls America (the place) "le nouveau monde", because he is an old-timey French person. Where he uses "Americain", he is generally talking about the land and its indigenous culture, in terms both of its wildlife (trois espèces ou variétés des
chiens Américains
) and its native people:
Les noms Américains de presque tous les animaux du nouveau monde étoient si barbares pour les Européens, qu’ils cherchèrent à leur en donner d’autres par des ressemblances, quelquefois heureuses, avec les animaux de l’ancien continent, mais souvent aussi par de simples rapports, trop éloignés pour fonder l’application de ces dénominations.
That this whole argument has largely ignored Native Americans, and that it takes an old-timey French racist to mention them, is... possibly ironic? At this point this is such a weird, twisty argument it would be hard to judge.
posted by running order squabble fest at 12:55 PM on March 3, 2014 [3 favorites]


Thing: It seems to be that some people from the US care fuck all about what anybody thinks of their name.

You can try to make that sound jingoistic, but I doubt you challenge any other groups' self designation.
posted by spaltavian at 1:07 PM on March 3, 2014 [1 favorite]


If the Costa Ricans wanted it, they should have become independent before 1776. And I know that Brits have a hard time remembering their South American geography — [Sean Penn level understanding of history]— but America's in Argentina.

The millions of people living in America before 1776 kinda already thought that they did have it by virtue of living on that continent. Seeing the US steal the name must have been a bit like finding out somebody's trademarked the word "candy". Nobody ever thought they had to fight for the name because they never foresaw somebody being so ballsout about claiming it. Kinda like asking Massasoit for his title deeds (maybe you and Sean Penn can get angry about that instead of some bit of terra nullius?).

1. The word "British" when used in any context that doesn't recognize that Ireland (north and south) is also one of the British Isles. Once the Republic of Ireland became indepenent (or perhaps once the Free State was established), the term should have only been used in those contexts which also encompassed Ireland.

...

How guilty do most British people feel about "stealing" the word "British" from the Irish? I'm guessing about as guilty as people in the U.S. do about this horrible, heinous theft of the word American.


Pretty guilty feeling here!


You can try to make that sound jingoistic, but I doubt you challenge any other groups' self designation.

See above.
posted by Thing at 1:11 PM on March 3, 2014


Yoink: Ahem.

You're kidding right? The first sentence under the title reads: This series is about the native peoples and civilizations of the Americas,

So apparently, your usage is ambiguous enough that it needs American English style phrasing to clear it up.

Thing: The millions of people living in America before 1776 kinda already thought that they did have it by virtue of living on that continent. Seeing the US steal the name must have been a bit like finding out somebody's trademarked the word "candy". Nobody ever thought they had to fight for the name

Are you just saying this, or are you going to provide something to substantiate how people felt? Once you do that, work on providing why that's relevant.
posted by spaltavian at 1:14 PM on March 3, 2014


I think a great portion of those millions of people would probably wonder why people were calling their land the name of an Italian cartographer, but they would probably be more irritated at the extermination of their culture and people by the Spanish than the name thing. Just a hunch.
posted by entropicamericana at 1:16 PM on March 3, 2014 [3 favorites]


Yeah, it extremely bizarre to argue that a quarter of a millennium ago, the indigenous peoples of the Western Hemisphere would necessarily want anything to do with "America"; a European name and concept being imposed on them by oppressors. I understand the position of Latin Americans today (regardless of ethnicity), given how the subsequent political and linguistic history played out, but in Early Modern times? They probably thought of themselves not as "Americans" but as Sioux or Maya and thought of Europeans as "fucking assholes".
posted by spaltavian at 1:25 PM on March 3, 2014 [1 favorite]


Pretty guilty feeling here!

So have you switched to UKoGBaNIian yet? Even if that's not your preferred alternate term, presumably you yourself don't use the word "British" except in contexts that refer to all the British Isles.
posted by Area Man at 1:25 PM on March 3, 2014


"What Is Up with Europeans Who Think This Is All One Continent Anyway? It Took Me Years to Figure Out Why They Count Continents Wrong over There."

That's because they can't even get their own continents straight! Europe and Asia are a single continent, we should just call them people "Eurasians" (or "Asieuropeans" if we don't want to subscribe to a left-to-right bias).
posted by FJT at 1:28 PM on March 3, 2014


TBH, Area Man, I'd go deeper. Prydain is a Welsh word - how dare the bastard English appropriate it? (Or the bastard Romans. It's complicated.)
posted by running order squabble fest at 1:29 PM on March 3, 2014 [1 favorite]


Are you just saying this, or are you going to provide something to substantiate how people felt? Once you do that, work on providing why that's relevant.

I'm just saying it. I personally find it unbelievable that anybody even has to defend the proposition of "people living on a continent should be able to identify themselves by the name of that continent without a single country claiming the name as their possession". Nothing I've read so far from US people seems to go further than, "well we've always done that so that's how it is", or "you can have the name when you pry it out of my cold dead hands". I think the burden is on you.

So have you switched to UKoGBaNIian yet? Even if that's not your preferred alternate term, presumably you yourself don't use the word "British" except in contexts that refer all the British Isles.

I use English and openly own that the UK/British thing is a ploy by English elites.
posted by Thing at 1:36 PM on March 3, 2014 [1 favorite]


I think the burden is on you.

No, the burden is on you. The status quo for quite some time is American as an adjective and a demonymn referred to the United States of America unless in very specific circumstances.

You're trying to fix a problem that really doesn't exist. It has nothing to do with hubris or imperialism any more than the people that named Colombia and kept the name were trying to squeeze out everyone on these two continents either. When people say Colombia now, they usually mean the South American country, unless they are talking in very specific contexts. I'm fine with that. Most people are fine with that.

So, I guess the point is, why are you kicking up all this dirt on something that is mostly settled? Is it because it's not settled in your particular direction?
posted by Lord Chancellor at 1:44 PM on March 3, 2014 [4 favorites]


Is there a large amount of similar outage among the people of Papua New Guinea, East Timor and portions of Indonesia about the country of Australia bogarting the name of their continent?
posted by entropicamericana at 1:45 PM on March 3, 2014 [3 favorites]


how dare the bastard English appropriate it? (Or the bastard Romans. It's complicated.)

To be fair, the Romans appropriated everything. It's pretty much the second thing in the Roman playbook. (The first, of course, being "Make a desert, and call it peace.")
posted by GenjiandProust at 1:46 PM on March 3, 2014 [1 favorite]


"The millions of people living in America before 1776 kinda already thought that they did have it by virtue of living on that continent. Seeing the US steal the name must have been a bit like finding out somebody's trademarked the word "candy". Nobody ever thought they had to fight for the name because they never foresaw somebody being so ballsout about claiming it. Kinda like asking Massasoit for his title deeds (maybe you and Sean Penn can get angry about that instead of some bit of terra nullius?)."

Great googley-moogely, what dunning bullshit! The millions of people living on the two continents kinda already had no idea nor interest in the demonyms of "America," what with being their own things — you know, with their own languages, cultures and histories.

And the perfidious treatment of Native Americans as noble savages or innocent morons rather than a bunch of self-interested nations dealing with a crack band of delusional religionists is just plain fantastic revisionism.

But OK, you go back in your time machine and give that Massasoit a quick quiz on 20th-century demonyms and see if he or she doesn't think you're in the throes of Jimson weed stupor.
posted by klangklangston at 1:47 PM on March 3, 2014 [2 favorites]


Nothing I've read so far from US people seems to go further than, "well we've always done that so that's how it is", or "you can have the name when you pry it out of my cold dead hands".

It's the name of our country. If other people in the Americas want to call themselves Americans, well ok, whatever floas their boat. They can call themselves whatever they wish.

But they don't get to call us something other than American and expect us to adhere to it or not be offended by it.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 1:48 PM on March 3, 2014 [9 favorites]


As a Dutch/USian,
USian just looks weird, and Dutch is a capitulation to anglophones not bothering to use anything else.
posted by HFSH at 1:50 PM on March 3, 2014


Yeah, a single tear for the noble strivings of the Angles, who weep every time a Saxon claims their heritage, let alone a Norman or Spaniard!
posted by klangklangston at 1:51 PM on March 3, 2014


"people living on a continent should be able to identify themselves by the name of that continent without a single country claiming the name as their possession"

But they can. In US English anyway, a person from say Brazil would indeed be a South American, a person from Canada would be a North American, a person from the US is both an American and a North American. It's just that being a North American or South American doesn't imply being an American. (in the way these words are used in US English)
posted by LobsterMitten (staff) at 1:52 PM on March 3, 2014 [2 favorites]


It's pretty much the second thing in the Roman playbook.

IInd, surely.
posted by cortex (staff) at 1:54 PM on March 3, 2014 [6 favorites]


Since we can talk about US English, would it be reasonable to expect that we can also talk about US Americans?
posted by Too-Ticky at 1:56 PM on March 3, 2014 [1 favorite]


I personally find it unbelievable that anybody even has to defend the proposition of "people living on a continent should be able to identify themselves by the name of that continent without a single country claiming the name as their possession"

Are residents of the United States of America included in this people living on a continent? You seem to be arguing that people from other countries on these continents should be able to call themselves Americans, and I don't think anyone here is saying they shouldn't. But if you are going to grant them the courtesy of recognizing their right to self-name as Americans should they choose to, why can those of us living in the USA not be granted that as well?
posted by rtha at 2:00 PM on March 3, 2014 [1 favorite]


And, Dear MeFites, this is why some Americans are really annoyed by "Usian." Thing's comments here are Exhibit A in an examination of why the term is loaded, and why I (speaking only for myself) am suspicious of anyone using it. Because Thing's somewhat incoherently argued agenda is lurking just under the surface.

Really, the response to "Don't use Usian, it's annoying," should be "Oh, sorry, no offense meant," not "Well, here's five reasons why you should be called Usian!"

None of which has much to do with whether the large American population on the site might try and be a little more attentive to the fact that we have a sizable non-American population as well, both in how we respond to FPPs that are not US-centric, and how we view ourselves as a group. The diversity on MetaFilter is a plus, and I wish it got more attention than it does.

Now, whatever you do, don't insist that we are Meh-fites.
posted by GenjiandProust at 2:01 PM on March 3, 2014 [9 favorites]


No, the burden is on you. The status quo for quite some time is American as an adjective and a demonymn referred to the United States of America unless in very specific circumstances.

Many things can be defended with reference to the status quo. Most often they are the wrong things. As a moral argument it is tissue thin.

Great googley-moogely, what dunning bullshit! The millions of people living on the two continents kinda already had no idea nor interest in the demonyms of "America," what with being their own things — you know, with their own languages, cultures and histories.

Yes, that's right. They each had names for their own countries, cultures, languages, and the like. Why doesn't the US?

But they can. In US English anyway, a person from say Brazil would indeed be a South American, a person from Canada would be a North American, a person from the US is both an American and a North American. It's just that being a North American or South American doesn't imply being an American. (in the way these words are used in US English)

Exactly. The US owns "American" as an unmarked name, and everybody else who wishes to use it must mark themselves out specifically. This is the wrong way round. Can you imagine South Africa owning "African" and everybody else have to call themselves "non-South African"?

Since we can talk about US English, would it be reasonable to expect that we can also talk about US Americans?

That's a really good compromise.

Are residents of the United States of America included in this people living on a continent? You seem to be arguing that people from other countries on these continents should be able to call themselves Americans, and I don't think anyone here is saying they shouldn't. But if you are going to grant them the courtesy of recognizing their right to self-name as Americans should they choose to, why can those of us living in the USA not be granted that as well?

People from the US are Americans, but they are Americans in the same way that Brazilians are Americans, and that Cubans are Americans. The problems is that people from the US call themselves "Americans" in the way that excludes Brazilians and Cubans.

Because Thing's somewhat incoherently argued agenda is lurking just under the surface.

My agenda is that people should get equal use of a name. It's hardly monstrous.
posted by Thing at 2:03 PM on March 3, 2014 [2 favorites]


On to the original topic, I will personally start defining the we that I mean when I use it (if it's not already unambiguous). For example, I'll start going "we (teachers)", or "we (Americans)", or "we (college graduates)", or "we (people of the world)", and other types of groups that I belong to but others might not. It's a good convention on a place like this where not everyone stands in the same place. I'll try to abide by that in the future.
posted by Lord Chancellor at 2:05 PM on March 3, 2014 [2 favorites]


Maybe you missed it the first time I asked, so I will repeat myself and make it a little more pointed:

Where is your similar outage on behalf of the people of Papua New Guinea, East Timor and portions of Indonesia, what with the country of Australia bogarting the name of their continent?
posted by entropicamericana at 2:06 PM on March 3, 2014 [1 favorite]


Thing, you use the word British. Your comments show that. Time for you to stop that and do what's right. Start using the word UKoGBaNIan. Be the change you wish to see in others.
posted by Area Man at 2:07 PM on March 3, 2014 [2 favorites]


Since we can talk about US English, would it be reasonable to expect that we can also talk about US Americans?

You probably could, but you might give the impression that you were further subdividing the set of "Americans" (in the USA sense) by some quality of US-ness. I think it suffers from the problem of increasing ambiguity rather than reducing it. Just as "USian" increases ambiguity for many people on MetaFilter ("is the person using this term using it as a slam on the USA?"), "US Americans" also might increase ambiguity ("Does this term exclude a portion of the population of the USA not considered 'US Americans'?").

"Americans" remains the best-understood term both for residents of the continent of America (rarely, because rarely required) and residents of the USA (often). "US-based American" might be taken to mean "the set of citizens or residents of the USA currently within the border of the 50 states of the US, i.e. excluding expats, serving members of the military and maybe people in the unincorporated territories.:

As an aside, and acknowledging the dubious wisdom of asking this in a thread which is about on a par with Blutarsky's speech at the end of Animal House in terms of overall historical accuracy, but the bit about Tom Paine having come up with "United States of America" - is that confirmed, now? Last I looked, Common Sense was sort of circling it ("United Colonies", "Free and Independent States of America") but never actually landed on the name.
posted by running order squabble fest at 2:11 PM on March 3, 2014 [1 favorite]


Thing, I think there's a Macedonian naming battle that needs your attention more than the word "American" does.

If I hear "American" in English, I'm going to think of the people of the United States, unless there is a radically different context. I'm not going to become purposefully confused so as to be your strange idea of equal.

If you want to refer to everyone in both North and South America as Americans, that's fine. People may be confused, but no one will stop you. If you refer to people in the United States as something other than American, not only will you confuse them at first, but they'll become huffy afterwards as you deliberately aren't using the demonymn that they self-identify as. I mean, it's your choice, but don't expect to get any traction for needlessly altering language for imagined tragedies. I mean, I'd ask why this matters so much when it overrules the wishes of many people, but I'm afraid that it's somewhat beyond the point.
posted by Lord Chancellor at 2:11 PM on March 3, 2014 [2 favorites]


The problems is that people from the US call themselves "Americans" in the way that excludes Brazilians and Cubans.

Cite?

Is the same true for people who identify as American Indian - by calling themselves such, are they excluding indigenous people who live in other countries on these continents? Is there an ambiguity there that must be cleared up?
posted by rtha at 2:12 PM on March 3, 2014


an aside, and acknowledging the dubious wisdom of asking this in a thread which is about on a par with Blutarsky's speech at the end of Animal House in terms of overall historical accuracy, but the bit about Tom Paine having come up with "United States of America" - is that confirmed, now? Last I looked, Common Sense was sort of circling it ("United Colonies", "Free and Independent States of America") but never actually landed on the name.

Evidently, Thomas Paine used it in a letter several days before the Declaration of Independence when he was writing under the name Republicus. There are some who disagree, and perhaps we'll find out Thomas Paine actually grabbed it from some poor schmuck who never received proper credit a few days earlier than his Republicus letter. People who have formally studied Revolutionary Period American (ahem, United Statian) history are more than welcome in chiming in to confirm or deny.
posted by Lord Chancellor at 2:19 PM on March 3, 2014


When I am in the UK and someone in the pub asks me where I am from, I always answer "Vermont." When they ask if that is in Canada, I reply "yes."
posted by terrapin at 2:21 PM on March 3, 2014 [3 favorites]


Cite?

Well, there are thousands of such examples. But here's one, American Literature: American literature is the written or literature produced in the area of the United States and its preceding colonies.

Brazilian literature and Cuban literature don't come under this term. Nor is a Guatemalan likely to write the next "Great American Novel". But why is it not "US Literature" or "Great US Novel"? There's nothing offensive or awful about such terms, they are still useful and reasonable, yet they open the door for a greater inclusivity for all Americans.
posted by Thing at 2:23 PM on March 3, 2014


> "Americans" remains the best-understood term both for residents of the continent of America (rarely, because rarely required) and residents of the USA (often).

If you mean 'best understood by residents of the USA' you are most likely right. But most people I know or meet aren't that.
For the rest of the world, it's not that straightforward and 'US Americans' may actually be clearer.

If you tell me you're an American, I have no way to be sure that you're talking about the country and not the continents. There is apparently a custom, but not living in the US, how would I know?

Inside the USA, the word American probably works just fine all by itself.
posted by Too-Ticky at 2:24 PM on March 3, 2014 [1 favorite]


Also note that American is used because US just refers to the governmental type. It refers to a period of history that, yes, spans up to the present day, but doesn't include one-hundred fifty years of colonial history. If I talk about early American literature, I'm usually talking about from 1600 to 18-something in the time and space now known as the USA. If I'm talking about early US literature, I'm breaking the continuity between the American Colonies and the American States and starting deliberately at 1776 (or perhaps a bit beyond).

In fact, there have been other anomalous histories in America where the people thought of themselves as American but not as members of the US. For example, the Confederate States (as brief and wrong-headed as it was), certainly didn't see themselves as USers but did see themselves as Americans, and preceding that, Republic of Texas often affiliated itself with America even as it was independent.

Anyway, it's a moot point. If I take a class called Early American Literature, I usually have a pretty good idea on what's included. We're fighting over a point that is almost overwhelmingly settled.
posted by Lord Chancellor at 2:33 PM on March 3, 2014 [9 favorites]


When I've traveled outside the US (which is basically the only time I ever talk about this), I say that I am an American, and that I am from the US. I am universally understood. Nobody ever thinks that I am from South America or a Caribbean island.

This has also been the case when I have been traveling in the Americas -- Canadians and Peruvians alike understand me when I say I'm an American, and nobody has ever taken offense or corrected me.

I'm aware that the assumption that the US = The Americas as a concept is one that people from other parts of America take umbrage at, but in my experience this does not include the demonym "American" to refer to people from the United States.

I have never heard anyone say the term "USian" aloud, and nor have I ever heard anyone introduce themselves that way or suggest that I should do the same.
posted by Sara C. at 2:38 PM on March 3, 2014 [3 favorites]


Well, there are thousands of such examples. But here's one, American Literature: American literature is the written or literature produced in the area of the United States and its preceding colonies.

But you initially framed this as a thing that applies to *people*: The problems is that people from the US call themselves "Americans" in the way that excludes Brazilians and Cubans. Which I read as saying that when I call myself an American, I am excluding Brazilians and Cubans. That is what I asked for a cite for.

I've traveled outside the US a fair bit and have never had someone ask me where in Canada or Brazil or Peru or El Salvador I'm from if I use the construct "I'm American."

The last time there was discussion on this subject around here, I asked a friend of mine who lives in Argentina now (but was born and raised in the US) if he encountered anyone who was confused about his country of origin if he said (in English) "I'm an American..." and he said it hadn't happened yet.
posted by rtha at 2:38 PM on March 3, 2014 [1 favorite]


Exactly. The US owns "American" as an unmarked name, and everybody else who wishes to use it must mark themselves out specifically. This is the wrong way round.

"America" is clearly marked, actually, by not adding further descriptors to it. It's not necessary to read more into it than this, I don't think.

And it's certainly not an issue of ownership. Other people can use a word all they want, although 1) it should probably make historical sense to do so, for obvious reasons; and 2) they would probably want to mark it differently to avoid confusion.
posted by SpacemanStix at 2:39 PM on March 3, 2014


Why can't the song "American Woman" be about a woman from any one of the countries in South or North America?
posted by Area Man at 2:41 PM on March 3, 2014 [1 favorite]


"Since we can talk about US English, would it be reasonable to expect that we can also talk about US Americans?"

I'm Afraid of U.S. Americans? I'm Afraid of USians?

"Yes, that's right. They each had names for their own countries, cultures, languages, and the like. Why doesn't the US?"

We do. It's called, "American." As to why we don't have our own language, just a dialect, well, I'm sure there's some kind of library over there where you can read about the colonial rebellion, since they didn't cover it during your years at Eton, apparently.

"The US owns "American" as an unmarked name, and everybody else who wishes to use it must mark themselves out specifically. This is the wrong way round. Can you imagine South Africa owning "African" and everybody else have to call themselves "non-South African"?"

Or imagine England owning British! And since "South" is one of those waddayacallem modifiers that we've belabored to the ground, your analogy is at best a silly hat.

"That's a really good compromise."

More frequently, we talk about American English.

"People from the US are Americans, but they are Americans in the same way that Brazilians are Americans, and that Cubans are Americans. The problems is that people from the US call themselves "Americans" in the way that excludes Brazilians and Cubans."

I'm gonna blow your mind a little: They're also "American" in a different way from Brazilians and Cubans!

"My agenda is that people should get equal use of a name. It's hardly monstrous."

But it's about as quixotic as searching your pants for a fart.

"Brazilian literature and Cuban literature don't come under this term. Nor is a Guatemalan likely to write the next "Great American Novel". But why is it not "US Literature" or "Great US Novel"? There's nothing offensive or awful about such terms, they are still useful and reasonable, yet they open the door for a greater inclusivity for all Americans."

Why wouldn't a Brazilian want to write the next Great Brazilian Novel? And since there's no real shared literature tradition throughout the entire Americas, couldn't a reasonably astute third-grader discern the difference?
posted by klangklangston at 2:44 PM on March 3, 2014 [4 favorites]


(Probably worth considering that the relationship of somebody identifying as American Indian may have a different relationship to the word "American" than a non-Native resident of the US. In general, it feels like using people whose mistreatment is inextricably connected to the history of the creation and expansion of the United States as a lever here might be kind of tricky. In a perfect world, there would be Native American voices in this discussion, but.)

Lord Chancellor: Sure - I was thinking more about the Planter letters, which were published before the Republicus letter and after Common Sense. So, I could have phrased my question as "has Paine been definitively identified as the author of the Planter letters?" - I think the Republicus question is pretty settled.

Too-Ticky: If you tell me you're an American, I have no way to be sure that you're talking about the country and not the continents. There is apparently a custom, but not living in the US, how would I know?

Well, what language are you speaking? We've already established that at least some forms of Latin American Spanish has a specific word for "of the United States of America". And of course words shift in meaning - when Buffon said Américain in the 18th century, he meant "native to America"; un américain would be a Native American, not a European colonist.

That usage changed in line with the usage by the colonists, who consciously defined themselves as American (i.e. native to America), rather than British (or other Old World nationality) when they declared independence. That's why the Boston Tea Party activists dressed as Mohawk warriors, rather than just covering their faces with masks. They weren't, to my knowledge, trying to frame the Mohawk: they were identifying as American, which had a specific meaning at that time.

I don't see a huge problem if a Mexican person, for example, believes that "American" should apply to them just as much as the residents of the US, and in the same way. Taxonomically, they have a point. Culturally, it hasn't happened yet in the Anglosphere, although it may at some point in the future.

(Holy wow - I just thought. Are the Montréal Canadiens named for the native people of Canada? or is it just a recursive name?)
posted by running order squabble fest at 2:45 PM on March 3, 2014


TedioUSian?
posted by planetesimal at 2:47 PM on March 3, 2014 [7 favorites]


MetaTalk: as quixotic as searching your pants for a fart.
posted by billiebee at 2:49 PM on March 3, 2014 [4 favorites]


Or imagine England owning British!

They don't. Americans routinely piss non-English Brits off by making that mistake.

Why can't the song "American Woman" be about a woman from any one of the countries in South or North America?


On the other hand, Capinam's "Soy loco por ti, America" is a song about what we usually call "South America."
posted by yoink at 2:49 PM on March 3, 2014 [1 favorite]


Why can't the song "American Woman" be about a woman from any one of the countries in South or North America?

Oh, but he sees her so sadly -
How can he tell her he loves her?
Yes, he would give his heart gladly,
But each day when she walks to the sea,
She looks straight ahead – not at he…

Tall and tan and young and lovely,
The American Woman goes walking
And when she passes, he smiles, but she doesn’t see…
posted by Kabanos at 2:49 PM on March 3, 2014


The US owns "American" as an unmarked name, and everybody else who wishes to use it must mark themselves out specifically. This is the wrong way round. Can you imagine South Africa owning "African" and everybody else have to call themselves "non-South African"?

The cases aren't analogous. In fact they are reversed. The name of the country is "South Africa" and the continent is the unmarked "Africa", whereas in the other case the name of the continents include the "North"/"South". People who want to say what continent they're from can do that by just using the name of the continent.
posted by LobsterMitten (staff) at 2:52 PM on March 3, 2014


> Well, what language are you speaking?

When I'm talking to a US resident, English is by far the most likely. I rarely meet any who speak other languages...
posted by Too-Ticky at 2:57 PM on March 3, 2014


But you initially framed this as a thing that applies to *people*: The problems is that people from the US call themselves "Americans" in the way that excludes Brazilians and Cubans. Which I read as saying that when I call myself an American, I am excluding Brazilians and Cubans. That is what I asked for a cite for.

I did use people as an example, but I think it fairly applies to anything about their countries and cultures too.

We do. It's called, "American." As to why we don't have our own language, just a dialect, well, I'm sure there's some kind of library over there where you can read about the colonial rebellion, since they didn't cover it during your years at Eton, apparently.

Could we at least keep this discussion civil? I know most if not all here disagree with me, but it's better for all if we play the ball and not the player.

The cases aren't analogous. In fact they are reversed. The name of the country is "South Africa" and the continent is the unmarked "Africa", whereas in the other case the name of the continents include the "North"/"South". People who want to say what continent they're from can do that by just using the name of the continent.

I understand what you're saying, but some people do regard America as a single continent. Most importantly, I think the namers of the US must have done as they used "America" and not "North America" or "the Americas".
posted by Thing at 2:57 PM on March 3, 2014 [2 favorites]


I understand what you're saying, but some people do regard America as a single continent.

Who are these people? I was taught there were seven continents in school, but that may have been American imperialist propaganda. Or is this a Pluto-type thing?

Most importantly, I think the namers of the US must have done as they used "America" and not "North America" or "the Americas".

Or maybe, just maybe, America was meant to refer to the name of union of states... A... country, if you will.

Still waiting on a reply re: Australia, BTW.
posted by entropicamericana at 3:03 PM on March 3, 2014 [2 favorites]


(Fun fact - the bank set up by the rebelling colonies in 1782 was called the Bank of North America. I have no idea whether that helps anyone's argument, though, especially as it was superseded by the Bank of the United States a decade or so later. And then there's Bank of America, which started out as the Bank of Italy... in San Francisco. Wait, what?)
posted by running order squabble fest at 3:06 PM on March 3, 2014


I did use people as an example, but I think it fairly applies to anything about their countries and cultures too.

You may have noticed that people feel differently about the naming of things vs the naming of themselves. "Fairly" (according to your definition, at least) doesn't come into it.
posted by rtha at 3:08 PM on March 3, 2014 [2 favorites]


A random thought occured to me that the entire world seems to be unaware that there is a country called Magyarország.

Also, USian is aesthetically terrible.
posted by Pyrogenesis at 3:08 PM on March 3, 2014


No thanks, I just ate.

(Little Magyar humor, there.)
posted by running order squabble fest at 3:09 PM on March 3, 2014


"people living on a continent should be able to identify themselves by the name of that continent without a single country claiming the name as their possession"

Using the term "American" would allow them to identify themselves as part of the hemisphere, as part of two continents. "American" as an geo-graphic identifier is a kin to Eurasian. It denotes two continents.

"North American" and "South American" are, in fact, the terms that identify a continent.
posted by Flood at 3:10 PM on March 3, 2014


some people do regard America as a single continent

I think this is the actual root of the issue, insofar as I understand it arising from a thing about Spanish, or western hemisphere Spanish (as opposed to just some general "Americans walk all over everybody so they should get put in their place" kind of motivation). If this is right, it seems like just a difference in the geographical concepts... in the US, it's pretty firmly entrenched that there are two continents, N. Am, and S. Am, and you can speak of them jointly as "the Americas", but never as one continent "America".

So - is it the case for other English speaking places that you regard N. Am. and S. Am. as a single continent, or that you would refer to them together as "America" (rather than "the Americas")?
posted by LobsterMitten (staff) at 3:11 PM on March 3, 2014 [1 favorite]


Still waiting on a reply re: Australia, BTW.

"Why aren't you equally mad at a thing that I have decided is equally bad?" is often a question that winds up being presumed to be rhetorical, especially around here.

While we acknowledge that MeFi is a site that is primarily in English and has a definite majority-English-speaking userbase, we try to make an effort to not make the place feel sort of top-down annoying by not doing things like using the 3/4/14 sort of date stamps and allowing people to set their own time zones and not having any real "official" types of holidays. But it's a site that contains multitudes and it is often frustating when you ask a question that clearly outlines your geographical location and people breeze by it presuming you are in the US. And the "we" thing is obnoxious though I've always found that it reflects a more internet-person sort of lack of understanding of the audience than anything else. In my travels I have only encountered this USian/American grar in online spaces.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 3:12 PM on March 3, 2014 [4 favorites]


...in the US, it's pretty firmly entrenched that there are two continents, N. Am, and S. Am, and you can speak of them jointly as "the Americas", but never as one continent "America".

If you check Google you can see that a phrase such as "Columbus discovered America" (for all it's historical and political wrongness) is far commoner than the alternatives.

Or maybe, just maybe, America was meant to refer to the name of union of states... A... country, if you will.

But the name was not made wholecloth. It referred to something.

You may have noticed that people feel differently about the naming of things vs the naming of themselves. "Fairly" (according to your definition, at least) doesn't come into it.

I have to disagree. I don't see a difference between "Brazilian literature" and "Brazilian writer". If we can deny that a person's work is American, then we can deny that the person is too.
posted by Thing at 3:13 PM on March 3, 2014


Columbus discovered America

I think that is probably a product of a blinkered focus on the US in the US education system. What was Columbus's big achievement? He discovered what would become the U.S.!
posted by LobsterMitten (staff) at 3:16 PM on March 3, 2014 [2 favorites]


Well then maybe that illustrates your point! When I hear "America" I assume it to mean the continent unless it's obvious that the person is talking about the US. But I suppose that's the ambiguity of the name, and really the worry over its use.
posted by Thing at 3:19 PM on March 3, 2014


I would imagine the reason people aren't concerned about Australia is because the continent is Oceania. Different word. Good effort though.
posted by tinkletown at 3:20 PM on March 3, 2014 [4 favorites]


Ok, so - if you don't mind my asking, and I am genuinely asking - is there/are you from an English-speaking place that treats North and South America as if they are a single continent called "America"?
posted by LobsterMitten (staff) at 3:21 PM on March 3, 2014


I have to disagree. I don't see a difference between "Brazilian literature" and "Brazilian writer". If we can deny that a person's work is American, then we can deny that the person is too.

No one here is denying that someone who is from Brazil is also, in the geographical sense if nothing else, also an American. You seem to want to tell people from the USA that we cannot self-identify as Americans, but everyone else on these continents should be able to.

And...really? You've really never encountered someone being upset that they're called the wrong name, and don't see any difference between calling Margaret "Margie" when she wants to be called Margaret and calling a book by an incorrect or shortened title?
posted by rtha at 3:22 PM on March 3, 2014 [3 favorites]


I would imagine the reason people aren't concerned about Australia is because the continent is Oceania. Different word. Good effort though.

Oops, somebody better edit this page then.
posted by entropicamericana at 3:23 PM on March 3, 2014


Ok, so - if you don't mind my asking, and I am genuinely asking - is there/are you from an English-speaking place that treats North and South America as if are a single continent called "America"?

I know both, and can't think which I was taught at school. But just looking now, there's a book on my bookshelf called "The Norse Discoverers of America". The book is from England, so really means the continent not the country. And BBC News divides America into "US & Canada" and "Latin America", not north and south. There's another thing: why is it Latin America and not "Latin Americas"? There really seems to be a current to not always seeing it as two continents.

No one here is denying that someone who is from Brazil is also, in the geographical sense if nothing else, also an American. You seem to want to tell people from the USA that we cannot self-identify as Americans, but everyone else on these continents should be able to.

I think people from the US are Americans and can self-identify as such. But I feel that saying "America" to mean the US makes it hard to say "America" to mean America for other people.
posted by Thing at 3:28 PM on March 3, 2014 [1 favorite]


Ooh, the wikipedia article on the Americas has a bit about this debate if you scroll down to the section on Terminology. It sounds like Spanish and Portuguese treat the Americas as a single continent and the other languages don't.
posted by LobsterMitten (staff) at 3:30 PM on March 3, 2014


Oops, somebody better edit this page then.

Dude, when you point to Wikipedia you kind of make clear what is already implied - that you are asking not based on a particular knowledge or genuine interest, but in the hope of a gotcha, based on limited knowledge. There are in fact naming conventions which precisely address the geopolitical complexity of the tradition of calling both mainland Australia and the continental area around it "Australia" - but they are possibly at a level of detail beneath a Wikipedia page. There's a good-faith discussion that can take place here.

So - is it the case for other English speaking places that you regard N. Am. and S. Am. as a single continent, or that you would refer to them together as "America" (rather than "the Americas")?

From my experience, I think people in the UK would generally understand "America" to mean either "the United States of America" (more commonly) or "the conjoined landmasses of North and South America". That said, "The President of America" would not read naturally, for example, whereas "The American President" would mean President Obama - context is significant.

Outside the Americas, I think that's quite common. Certainly in French "Amérique" is used both as a shorthand for "les États-Unis" and to describe the conjoined landmass.
posted by running order squabble fest at 3:32 PM on March 3, 2014 [3 favorites]


In Dutch, the word Amerika mostly refers to the United States.[citation needed]

This is somewhat interesting, given this. I guess the Dutch are a generous people.
posted by entropicamericana at 3:34 PM on March 3, 2014


Ok, so - if you don't mind my asking, and I am genuinely asking - is there/are you from an English-speaking place that treats North and South America as if they are a single continent called "America"?

Here's an example:
America, also called the Western Continent or the New World, consists of three main divisions: North America, Central America, and South America
I would say that for most English speakers both formulations are available and so long as they're not juxtaposed too starkly we accept either/both. That is, the book series I linked to above (Wiley's "Peoples of America" series), which treats of both North and South American peoples would not, I imagine, cause even a slightly raised eyebrow, even from someone who automatically thinks first of North and South American as being separate continents. Similarly, the encyclopedia article I linked to above, which is very clearly thinking of "America" as one continent at the outset, will also happily go on to talk about the "Americas" later on when it's useful to do so.
posted by yoink at 3:35 PM on March 3, 2014 [1 favorite]


That reads as very archaic usage to me. It's from 1907; look at some of the other stuff on that page, I think it is not a good guide to present-day usage.
posted by LobsterMitten (staff) at 3:41 PM on March 3, 2014 [1 favorite]


My real name is Margaret, I go by Meg, I HATE it when people call me Megan, I identify as an American from the United States of America and don't really have a problem with seeing USian on Mefi but would have no clue as to how to use it in conversation.
posted by pearlybob at 3:41 PM on March 3, 2014 [1 favorite]


That reads as very archaic usage to me. It's from 1907; look at some of the other stuff on that page, I think it is not a good guide to present-day usage.

A recent usage, also Catholic, where "America" is used repeatedly to mean both North and South. These are just not that hard to find.
posted by yoink at 3:47 PM on March 3, 2014


Here's another, by the way, in a contemporary scientific context.
posted by yoink at 3:51 PM on March 3, 2014


> I will personally start defining the we that I mean when I use it (if it's not already unambiguous).

I expect people always to be able to tell from the context what I mean, and if they can't they need to go work on their ESP instead of getting all shirty.

'When I use a word,' Humpty Dumpty said, in rather a scornful tone, 'it means just what I choose it to mean — neither more nor less.'

'The question is,' said Alice, 'whether you can make words mean so many different things.'

'The question is,' said Humpty Dumpty, 'which is to be master — that's all.'

posted by jfuller at 3:52 PM on March 3, 2014


So . . . I forgot what everyone is arguing now. I can certainly understand why people use "America" to mean North and South America, though usually, it means the land of that is covered by the United States of America.

No one has a problem with using America to refer to the land of the USA, do they?

USians is really clunky, and it identifies people by their government type, and not the place where they live. Plus, most Americans prefer not to use it or have it used to describe them. It's not offensive, but it is annoying and doesn't sound very good in one's ear. Is it okay that we not use that term? If you really want to avoid using "America" or "American" referring to the territory between Mexico and Canada, do you want to say USA instead? Or to refer to the people, just say people of the US? There's not great other terms, I'm afraid, and you'll still run into trouble with African Americans, American Indians, and others that do NOT refer to those groups presence in the rest of the Americas. So, in lieu of other terms, are we at least okay with using America to refer to the country and the people that live in or around it?
posted by Lord Chancellor at 3:53 PM on March 3, 2014 [1 favorite]


A recent usage, also Catholic,

The piece is titled New Evangelization: Responsibilities and Challenges for the American Continent. The context is pretty clear.

There are multiple references on the same site to the American Church, meaning, the Church in the United States of America.
posted by rtha at 3:54 PM on March 3, 2014 [1 favorite]


yoink, the first of those is a speech delivered in Mexico City and the second is by Latino-named authors (I'm not sure what their institutional affiliation is). Both are probably well explained by the Spanish usage that is different from the English usage, no?
posted by LobsterMitten (staff) at 3:55 PM on March 3, 2014 [2 favorites]


When I lived in the UK, I found conversations along these lines to be fairly common:

Them: I'm flying to America next week!
Me: Oh cool, where?
Them: Toronto

Yet they would not refer to a Canadian or a Mexican as an American, and I wouldn't expect them to or want them to. So: inconsistency.

The germane point in this thread is whether Metafilter is an "American website" and I don't see any good will come from asserting that it is.

We should all be expats at Metafilter.
posted by Rumple at 3:58 PM on March 3, 2014 [3 favorites]


If you really want to avoid using "America" or "American" referring to the territory between Mexico and Canada, do you want to say USA instead? Or to refer to the people, just say people of the US?

That's exactly what I do. I agree that "USian" is an ugly word and not in spoken use. But saying "US this" or "US that" works really well, doesn't annoy anybody, and solves the problem. It's neat and I would like more people to do that, if they will, of course.
posted by Thing at 3:58 PM on March 3, 2014


No it's fine, read the rest of the page, entropicamericana, it doesn't need editing:

"The terms Oceania or Australasia are sometimes substituted for Australia to denote a region encompassing the Australian continent and various islands in the Pacific Ocean that are not included in the seven-continent model. For example, the Atlas of Canada names Oceania,[20] as does the model taught in Italy, Greece[18] and in Ibero-America (Spain, Portugal, Brazil and Hispanic America)."

Some models define continents as continuous land masses. That is how people can argue that America is just the one continent, and that Europe is the same continent as Asia and Africa. If we're using that model then yes, Australia the country is in the continent of Australia, but that is just the island and excludes all the non-physically-attached countries such as New Zealand, the Micronesian Islands, etc. There is debate about PNG, because it is not a continuous land mass but shares a coastal shelf with the island of Australia. Some models include it, some don't.

Australasia or Oceania are the terms generally used if we are including NZ and/or all the islands in the rest of the Pacific Ocean. The statement was made that people in adjoining countries would be pissed off to be in the continent of Australia. I'm saying they're not, because they don't use that term for their continent.

//married to a geography post-grad, numerous family and friends in NZ who are quite content with the name of their continent.
posted by tinkletown at 4:00 PM on March 3, 2014 [2 favorites]


"They don't. Americans routinely piss non-English Brits off by making that mistake. "

Scots are British but not English; and United Kingdom only superseded "Great Britain" in British textbooks in 2002.

"Could we at least keep this discussion civil? I know most if not all here disagree with me, but it's better for all if we play the ball and not the player."

Look, if you're airily wondering why the U.S. doesn't have its own language like the Algonquin, it's reasonable to point out that this is a point of general knowledge, and that if you've missed it, it's your responsibility.

"I understand what you're saying, but some people do regard America as a single continent. Most importantly, I think the namers of the US must have done as they used "America" and not "North America" or "the Americas"."

Some people, but generally in limited circumstance and even then, not that many of them. When the Founders of the U.S. named it, nobody else was using "America" or "United States." And if they'd said "the Americas," they'd be making an even broader claim.

"I have to disagree. I don't see a difference between "Brazilian literature" and "Brazilian writer". If we can deny that a person's work is American, then we can deny that the person is too."

Bah, circular reasoning on a million counts: That you don't see a difference between writer and literature isn't conclusive (one could live in Brazil without being Brazilian; it's entirely possible for a foreigner to write the Great American Novel here in the States), and the claim that we're denying they're American is bizarre — the Great Canadian Novels are being written by an Indian, American and Spaniard.

"Well then maybe that illustrates your point! When I hear "America" I assume it to mean the continent unless it's obvious that the person is talking about the US. But I suppose that's the ambiguity of the name, and really the worry over its use."

Then YOU have a problem. The rest of us don't.

"There's another thing: why is it Latin America and not "Latin Americas"? There really seems to be a current to not always seeing it as two continents."

I dunno, maybe because it's seen as a cohesive region?
posted by klangklangston at 4:05 PM on March 3, 2014 [2 favorites]


USians is really clunky, and it identifies people by their government type, and not the place where they live

"US" just stands for "United States"--which is a commonly used name for the country, not a description of the "government type." I can see that you might find objections if you referred to the people of America as "Republicans."
posted by yoink at 4:05 PM on March 3, 2014 [1 favorite]


Scots are British but not English; and United Kingdom only superseded "Great Britain" in British textbooks in 2002.

That was my point. You were the one suggesting that the English owned the term "British."
posted by yoink at 4:07 PM on March 3, 2014


(And to head off the better example of the Organization of American States, it's a formation that goes back to the 1890s with a direct lineage, and is idiosyncratic in English.)
posted by klangklangston at 4:07 PM on March 3, 2014 [1 favorite]


It sounds like Spanish and Portuguese treat the Americas as a single continent and the other languages don't.

Well, really it seems more accurate to say that in many/most Spanish-speaking countries (among other places) people are taught in their geography/social studies/etc classes that there is one continent called America (and their language has the vocabulary to support that.) It may be convenient to think of it as "Oh, well, that's Spanish, in English there are seven continents" but to my mind that seems pretty weird. When you learn English you're supposed to also go back and revise your understanding of geography? What about English-speakers in those countries who go to school in English in the first place, but presumably learn the same geography as everyone else in their country?

There are plenty of English speakers-- many who now live in the US, even-- who grew up being taught that America is one continent, and having a word (that translates to "Americans") to refer to everyone who lives there. Are folks suggesting they shouldn't be allowed to use America and Americans to refer to the continent(s) and its residents when speaking in English? But if they are, then there is indeed some ambiguity, right?
posted by EmilyClimbs at 4:07 PM on March 3, 2014 [1 favorite]


I think all of those things are established, Lord Chancellor - what's becoming clear is that in many places outside the US, English-speaking and otherwise, "America" as a word can be applied to both the USA and the conjoined landmasses of North and South America. So, there's an ambiguity - usually resolved by context - that doesn't exist, or is at least much less pronounced, in US English.

USian may be an insulting reference to this ambiguity, or it may be a benign attempt to acknowledge and resolve it, as it apparently was in the OP. However, there is a very good reason not to use it, which is because it starts a gigantic fight and derails the thread. QED.

(Although it does exist - like the Organization of American States, which refers to the 34 nations of the Americas, not the 50 States of the United States of America. However, one can again see an influence there from Latin America, despite English being one of the OAW's official languages.)

Thinking about it.. if it weren't for a couple of holdouts (Suriname, Guyana, French Guyana, I am looking at you), we could just rebrand the continents CONCACAF and CONMEBOL and have done with it.
posted by running order squabble fest at 4:08 PM on March 3, 2014


"That was my point. You were the one suggesting that the English owned the term "British.""

No, I was pointing out that the English own British the way that Americans own America. Scroll back up, you'll find it.
posted by klangklangston at 4:09 PM on March 3, 2014


yoink, the first of those is a speech delivered in Mexico City and the second is by Latino-named authors (I'm not sure what their institutional affiliation is).

Wow, I'm being no true Scotsman'ed to death here. You think if the usage were likely to cause any confusion among English-speaking readers the editors would have let it stand?

But never mind, is the Oxford Advanced Learner's Dictionary, perchance, a Latin American work? Here we have it talking, just like the Catholic Encyclopedia I quoted above of "the [singular] continent of America" which is, in turn, "divided" into North and South.
posted by yoink at 4:12 PM on March 3, 2014


No, I was pointing out that the English own British the way that Americans own America.

But they don't "own British." That's my point. The Scots "own British" just as much as the English do. Whereas the Americans really do own "American"--the citizens of no other American nation get to call themselves simply "Americans" the way the citizens of the US do.
posted by yoink at 4:14 PM on March 3, 2014 [2 favorites]


"Well then maybe that illustrates your point! When I hear "America" I assume it to mean the continent unless it's obvious that the person is talking about the US. But I suppose that's the ambiguity of the name, and really the worry over its use."

Then YOU have a problem. The rest of us don't.


I think it has been established that many people do (or at least can) see America as the name of a single continent. There's obviously a clash of meaning and usage, and I can see it is going to take us all a long time to get used to that and figure out some kind of solution.
posted by Thing at 4:15 PM on March 3, 2014 [2 favorites]


My agenda is that people should get equal use of a name. It's hardly monstrous.

I never called your agenda monstrous; I called it annoying (and incoherent).

Since you asked that people be civil, can you stop demanding that Americans change the way we prefer to describe ourselves to suit you? Because stubbornly insisting that you have the right to control other people's self-definition is, well, pretty rude.
posted by GenjiandProust at 4:15 PM on March 3, 2014 [2 favorites]


it seems more accurate to say that in many/most Spanish-speaking countries (among other places) people are taught in their geography/social studies/etc classes that there is one continent called America

Sure, I agree with this. I guess what I was meaning to emphasize or understand is, there seems to be a simple fact at the root of this -- it's that the two languages, or two educational systems, or two cultures, just split the continents differently. So it's not that English speaking people in the US are being imperialist by using the word for the double-continent as their own, it's that they don't see there being a double-continent in the first place... they see two continents, with two names distinct from the word they use for themselves.

I'm being no true Scotsman'ed to death here.

Maybe I am not understanding what your examples are meant to show. I took it they were meant to show that it's a normal thing in contemporary US English to refer to North and South America jointly as America (by way of showing that there's a genuine ambiguity in English about what the term 'American' refers to). But I think it isn't a normal usage. I think you're finding examples that are either archaic or pitched to a Spanish-speaking audience, where they're deliberately using a Spanish-friendly way of speaking. I'm not trying to move goalposts or anything.
posted by LobsterMitten (staff) at 4:19 PM on March 3, 2014 [2 favorites]


Interestingly, from one of the cites in the Wikipedia article on continents section on Definitions and Application (which also talks about "some parts of Europe" including Greece having the one American continent model), defining North and South America as separate continents is not that old even in the US:

"While it might seem surprising to find North and South America still joined into a single continent in a book published in the United States in 1937, such a notion remained fairly common until World War II. [...] By the 1950s, however, virtually all American geographers had come to insist that the visually distinct landmasses of North and South America deserved separate designations." (Lewis, Martin W.; Kären E. Wigen (1997). "1". The Myth of Continents: a Critique of Metageography.)
posted by EmilyClimbs at 4:24 PM on March 3, 2014


I took it they were meant to show that it's a normal thing in contemporary US English

That wasn't the question you asked, Lobstermitten. This was the question you asked, just to remind you:
is there/are you from an English-speaking place that treats North and South America as if they are a single continent called "America"?
The term you used was "English-speaking place," not "contemporary US English." I even quoted your question, in full, in the first post where I began attempting to answer it.
posted by yoink at 4:26 PM on March 3, 2014


Since you asked that people be civil, can you stop demanding that Americans change the way we prefer to describe ourselves to suit you? Because stubbornly insisting that you have the right to control other people's self-definition is, well, pretty rude.

It is rude, and I can see why I might come over as rude. It's not my goal to be rude nor to be controlling, even if it comes over that way.

I also certainly don't want to stop people self-identifying as I think self-identity is a good and affirmative thing. We all have the right to identify how we please. But I think our right to self-identify stops when it meets the same and equal right of another to self-identify. Maybe I haven't done well in expressing or clarifying this point, but I feel that the right of others to identify as "American" means that we shouldn't be happy with a use of that name which, even inadvertantly, is exclusive. It's about letting room for others under that name.

incoherent

My apologies. I think it is the nature of this kind of threaded discussion that can make arguments seem scattered and disjointed. Maybe were I to write something longer seeking to set all my thoughts as one it would be more "together".
posted by Thing at 4:26 PM on March 3, 2014 [2 favorites]


Maybe I am not understanding what your examples are meant to show. I took it they were meant to show that it's a normal thing in contemporary US English to refer to North and South America jointly as America (by way of showing that there's a genuine ambiguity in English about what the term 'American' refers to).

You mean a genuine ambiguity in US English, I think, Lobstermitten. Britons will certainly use "America" to mean both the US and the conjoined landmass made up of North and South America.

(qv. The Proclaimers' "Letter From America":
I've looked at the ocean
Tried hard to imagine
The way you felt the day you sailed
From Wester Ross to Nova Scotia
They may mean that the subject of the song sailed to Nova Scotia, and then travelled from Canada to the US, and should only send back a letter once they left the Maritimes and arrived in the States, but I think that's a reach. Especially with the rail tracks.)

I don't know about Australia, but usage often follows British English. Likewise Indian and West African English. I think the same ambiguity exists in every Romance or Germanic language I know, which is by no means all of them.

So... yeah. The USA appears to be a, and possibly the only, country in which "America" unambiguously and (barring outliers like the OAS) always means "The United States of America". That's fine and understandable, but it does seem to be pretty solidly attested at this point.
posted by running order squabble fest at 4:30 PM on March 3, 2014 [3 favorites]

That's exactly what I do. I agree that "USian" is an ugly word and not in spoken use. But saying "US this" or "US that" works really well, doesn't annoy anybody, and solves the problem. It's neat and I would like more people to do that, if they will, of course.
I think that sounds good in theory but would get messy in practice. Do I say that February is often celebrated as African-US-Person History Month? I mentioned above Jose Antonio Vargas, a Pulitzer-prize-winning former-journalist who is campaigning for the inclusion in US society of undocumented immigrants such as himself. Should he start referring to himself as an "Undocumented US-Person" and to his campaign as "Define US-Person"? Those sound really awkward to me. I think that in practice there needs to be a noun that means "person who is from the US" and an adjective that means "of the US", and if it's not American or USian, it will have to be something else.
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 4:36 PM on March 3, 2014


Britons will certainly use "America" to mean... the conjoined landmasses made up of North and South America.

Ah, ok - this is something I did not know.
posted by LobsterMitten (staff) at 4:37 PM on March 3, 2014


Them: I'm flying to America next week!
Me: Oh cool, where?
Them: Toronto


FWIW I'm from the UK* and I've never, ever met anyone who would have said Toronto was in America. Ever. We would say Canada, end of.

I consider "America" to be synonymous with "the US". I also don't consider "America" to mean "North and South"; if someone said "America" I'd think "North America". I think of South America as separate.

I won't be using USian not just because people don't like it, and despite the fact that I know where people are coming from seeing a place for it (without any malice or accusations of imperialism, from an outsider's view it just looks like it means "people from the US" which isn't derogatory, hence the confusion of some of us over the apparent - and seemingly neverfuckingending - debate around it). But mainly because its just a bit awkward. yew-es-ee-an. You kind of have to chew. And with the big letters and the small letters? Forget it.

Now I'm just going to leave this here because its vaguely relevant, it's excellent, and y'all need to chill


*I'm also a citizen of two other English-speaking places (Ireland and EU) so you're really getting three opinions. Bargain
posted by billiebee at 4:38 PM on March 3, 2014 [4 favorites]


I think that sounds good in theory but would get messy in practice. Do I say that February is often celebrated as African-US-Person History Month? I mentioned above Jose Antonio Vargas, a Pulitzer-prize-winning former-journalist who is campaigning for the inclusion in US society of undocumented immigrants such as himself. Should he start referring to himself as an "Undocumented US-Person" and to his campaign as "Define US-Person"? Those sound really awkward to me. I think that in practice there needs to be a noun that means "person who is from the US" and an adjective that means "of the US", and if it's not American or USian, it will have to be something else.

I agree that there are some (maybe many!) cases where "US this or that" won't work. I suppose the solution, whatever it may be, should come people in and of the US.
posted by Thing at 4:44 PM on March 3, 2014


We're all going to hell in a hugbasket I tell you what.


Apparently instead we all went to hug in a hellbasket. Which is what this thread is at this point.
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 4:51 PM on March 3, 2014 [2 favorites]


It's true, hugbaskets are from hell.
posted by planetesimal at 4:53 PM on March 3, 2014


If I'm referring to American history and not just US history, I'm going to say "American History". I hope you see how the two terms differ in specific circumstances.

And there doesn't need to be a solution to African American. African American is the solution, and I hope you see that.
posted by Lord Chancellor at 4:56 PM on March 3, 2014 [1 favorite]


No problem, Lobstermitten - I mentioned it earlier, but it's a long thread.

I think it helps to explain the pushback against "USian" by Americans. From an American perspective, it solves a problem that doesn't exist, whereas I can imagine an English speaker from France, or Germany, or Britain (pace Billiebee - clearly, different experiences, there) - all of whose native-language words for "America" mean both the US and the continent(s) - seeing it initially as a useful disambiguating tool, rather than a magical fight wand.

(And a tool of a kind the fashioning of which has been attempted at various times from within the United States, with people trying to popularise "Fredonian", "Columbian", "Usonian" and various other terms for an American-in-that-sense at various points. But "American" prevailed.)

However, from a US perspective there doesn't seem to be a need for it, and so it seems both otiose and suspicious. And, really, there doesn't seem to be a lot of point in trying to force that issue, especially on a US-centric message board, when the solution settled upon by most languages (barring the Latin American versions of Spanish and Portuguese, it seems) is "the word for American" plus context. Although estadounidenses could actually be a really useful loan word. I might start using it and see what happens...
posted by running order squabble fest at 4:57 PM on March 3, 2014 [4 favorites]


"Wow, I'm being no true Scotsman'ed to death here. You think if the usage were likely to cause any confusion among English-speaking readers the editors would have let it stand?"

Begging the question: That usage has enough context to not be ambiguous at all.

"But they don't "own British." That's my point. The Scots "own British" just as much as the English do. Whereas the Americans really do own "American"--the citizens of no other American nation get to call themselves simply "Americans" the way the citizens of the US do."

62 percent of True Scotsmen feel they are Scottish, not British.

But more to the point, you're trying to have it both ways: Either there are plenty of people in the Americas who call themselves American despite not having a connection to the U.S. of A., in which case Americans do not own "America," or it is owned and those people do not accurately self-identify. Neither of which calls for USian.

"I think it has been established that many people do (or at least can) see America as the name of a single continent. There's obviously a clash of meaning and usage, and I can see it is going to take us all a long time to get used to that and figure out some kind of solution."

Thank you for reminding me to laugh along with the troll rather than feel frustrated by it. Some people wear their y-fronts over their faces, and I guess we're all going to have to spend a long time to figure out some sort of solution to "underwear."

"That wasn't the question you asked, Lobstermitten. This was the question you asked, just to remind you:
is there/are you from an English-speaking place that treats North and South America as if they are a single continent called "America"?
The term you used was "English-speaking place," not "contemporary US English." I even quoted your question, in full, in the first post where I began attempting to answer it.
"

And the answer is, "Yes, but they're old, obscure, archaic or specialty uses and not common in the vernacular. As such, my insistence on the utility of USian is purely the plumage of an out-of-season pedant."

"But I think our right to self-identify stops when it meets the same and equal right of another to self-identify. Maybe I haven't done well in expressing or clarifying this point, but I feel that the right of others to identify as "American" means that we shouldn't be happy with a use of that name which, even inadvertantly, is exclusive. It's about letting room for others under that name."

Not really. You haven't established that "American" is exclusive within the Americas (as opposed to simply dominant), you haven't shown any real harm, and you've shown no real gain for having others under the same name. You can call marmalade a jam in your own home as much as you like.

"I agree that there are some (maybe many!) cases where "US this or that" won't work. I suppose the solution, whatever it may be, should come people in and of the US."

It did. We're Americans here in the United States. It is a solved problem.
posted by klangklangston at 4:59 PM on March 3, 2014 [8 favorites]


I also certainly don't want to stop people self-identifying as I think self-identity is a good and affirmative thing. We all have the right to identify how we please. But I think our right to self-identify stops when it meets the same and equal right of another to self-identify.

But the endless hectoring on this topic is trying to stop people from self-identifying. I mean, that is the whole purpose; to get people to give up hundreds of years of self-identity to adopt an ugly and awkward term that is more ambiguous than the one currently in use. This argument is not flying on MetaFilter; it is beyond dead in the USA as a whole. So not only is the whole topic annoying; it's uselessly annoying.

My apologies. I think it is the nature of this kind of threaded discussion that can make arguments seem scattered and disjointed. Maybe were I to write something longer seeking to set all my thoughts as one it would be more "together".

Please don't. Having seen you refuse to accept the refutations of your points individually, it's not going to help matters to gather them into one place. The problem is not that your arguments are spread out; it's that the people you are asking to make a major change in their self-identity don't accept your arguments or even your basic premises.

Again, despite internet custom, the correct response to "I am offended by that term you keep using" is not "well, here are all my reasons why you shouldn't be offended."
posted by GenjiandProust at 5:01 PM on March 3, 2014 [8 favorites]


...the Angles, who weep every time a Saxon claims their heritage, let alone a Norman or Spaniard!

What's all this about Norman Spinrad?
posted by Kirth Gerson at 5:03 PM on March 3, 2014 [1 favorite]


And the answer is, "Yes, but they're old, obscure, archaic or specialty uses and not common in the vernacular. As such, my insistence on the utility of USian is purely the plumage of an out-of-season pedant."

Sigh. I have, over and over again in this thread, repeatedly made the point that I do NOT think USian ought to be used.

This is a topic that brings out a really odd side of Mefites whom I know normally to be extremely thoughtful and very careful readers.

Just to be clear. I am not arguing that anyone should use USian. I think the fact that a large number of US citizens dislike the term is an adequate and conclusive basis to deprecate its use.
posted by yoink at 5:04 PM on March 3, 2014


old, obscure, archaic or specialty uses

Tell me, klang, is the Oxford Advanced Learner's Dictionary "old," "obscure," "archaic" or "specialty" in your view?
posted by yoink at 5:07 PM on March 3, 2014 [1 favorite]


But the endless hectoring on this topic is trying to stop people from self-identifying. I mean, that is the whole purpose; to get people to give up hundreds of years of self-identity to adopt an ugly and awkward term that is more ambiguous than the one currently in use. This argument is not flying on MetaFilter; it is beyond dead in the USA as a whole. So not only is the whole topic annoying; it's uselessly annoying.

I think we're talking past each other on terms of self-identity. I recognize that US self-identity has a long history, but sometimes even the oldest customs need to be faced and questioned if it means encouraging a wider self-identity for all. It's a long road, for sure.
posted by Thing at 5:12 PM on March 3, 2014 [1 favorite]


Or indeed the Proclaimers' Letter from... actually, yeah, that is pretty old.

Catchy, though!
posted by running order squabble fest at 5:13 PM on March 3, 2014


Thank you for reminding me to laugh along with the troll rather than feel frustrated by it. Some people wear their y-fronts over their faces, and I guess we're all going to have to spend a long time to figure out some sort of solution to "underwear."

I know that when presented with a new idea it can take time to properly gauge it. I think that with a lifetime of knowing a word with one meaning it must be easier to take a challenge to that word as ridiculous. It is easier to laugh than to consider, I understand that.
posted by Thing at 5:16 PM on March 3, 2014 [2 favorites]


"Sigh. I have, over and over again in this thread, repeatedly made the point that I do NOT think USian ought to be used."

Yes, because you realize that it gets people's goats up, not because you recognize that the utility outside of that is extremely limited at best. I am entirely clear on your disavowal of "USian" for sensitivity reasons. Even beyond those reasons, it's still not very useful.
posted by klangklangston at 5:16 PM on March 3, 2014


I know that when presented with a new idea it can take time to properly gauge it. I think that with a lifetime of knowing a word with one meaning it must be easier to take a challenge to that word as ridiculous. It is easier to laugh than to consider, I understand that.

Just to reiterate, Thing, I used to use USian because I once felt "American" was illogical. After considering (and not laughing), I realized that by forcing people into logical paradigms to make things make more sense to me, I was being not only pretentious, but insulting and presumptuous, especially in trying to fix a problem that doesn't really exist at such level as to need to be fixed.

We're not fighting you on this because we haven't thought about this. If anything, you should walk away from this conversation seeing how we have and eventually realized that use of "American" is totally warranted in many cases, especially when referring to the land in between California and New York Island. After careful consideration, we are not going to change the use of "America" or "American" though those that wish to use it to refer to the entire New World my of course continue to do so.
posted by Lord Chancellor at 5:31 PM on March 3, 2014 [6 favorites]


is the Oxford Advanced Learner's Dictionary "old," "obscure," "archaic" or "specialty"

I think this example doesn't really help to show that English speakers actually use it this way, though, because it's oriented to people coming from other languages. So this source phrasing things in this way can be explained by the fact of its being a frequent cross-cultural confusion for Spanish-speakers learning English.

(But at this point, I am stepping away from this.)
posted by LobsterMitten (staff) at 5:34 PM on March 3, 2014


rtha: "The last time there was discussion on this subject around here, I asked a friend of mine who lives in Argentina now (but was born and raised in the US) if he encountered anyone who was confused about his country of origin if he said (in English) "I'm an American..." and he said it hadn't happened yet."

Reminds me of a story I once heard ...
posted by barnacles at 5:44 PM on March 3, 2014


The odd thing here is that I'm not sure anyone is actually arguing for "USian" at this point. That quote, Lord Chancellor, and the quote it reference, and the quote that quote referenced, are about the idea that there are English-speaking nations that use the word "America" to mean both "the United States of America" and "the conjoined landmass of North and South America".

Put simply, there are. At a guess, that usage exists to a greater or lesser degree in every English-speaking country outside the United States and Canada, and also in many non-English speaking countries whose inhabitants may speak English as a second and/or official language, either because of the way their first language culture deals with it or because of the reason why English is their official language (often British imperialism).

For example, see the Guardian style guide - not oriented towards people coming from other languages, but rather towards British journalists:
the country is generally the United States or US, although its citizens are Americans; we should remember that America includes all of North and South America
That seems about right from my knowledge of British English, if a little too prescriptive for everyday use. "America" can mean the US or North and South America, and is usually clear by context. "American" as an adjective means either "pertaining to the US" or "pertaining to North and South America". "American" as a noun means "an American citizen (or non-citizen resident)".

That isn't to say that the US and Canada need to change their usage of "America" or "American" - it clearly makes sense for them. Nor is it particularly a problem. It's just a peculiarity of a global language, like "pants" and "trousers". I don't actually understand why this should be a stumper, conceptually, or an upsetting concept.
posted by running order squabble fest at 5:53 PM on March 3, 2014 [1 favorite]


Oxford Advanced Learner's Dictionary

We don't actually use the Oxford Dictionary. In America, we use Webster's Dictionary.
And, Webster does not define "America" as one continent.
It also says the "the United States of America" is an accepted definition of the word "America". (Definition #3)

Shout out to Noah - he made the dictionary that all the cool kids use !!!
posted by Flood at 6:13 PM on March 3, 2014 [2 favorites]


I think that was a QED.
posted by running order squabble fest at 6:15 PM on March 3, 2014


I use the American Heritage Dictionary. A biased source on this particular question, obviously.
posted by Area Man at 6:19 PM on March 3, 2014 [5 favorites]


People from the US are Americans, but they are Americans in the same way that Brazilians are Americans, and that Cubans are Americans.

For a typical native speaker of English, this is simply false. There is no real confusion as to what "Americans" means.

Denying the validity of the correct demonym for a group in its own native tongue, simply to score "gotcha" points, is pretty damn reprehensible.
posted by one more dead town's last parade at 7:27 PM on March 3, 2014 [12 favorites]


this thread is the worst thread
posted by nathancaswell at 9:20 PM on March 3, 2014 [9 favorites]


On the boats and on the planes,
They're coming to America!
Hope they don't end up in New Brunswick or Suriname again,
Dammit they really want to come to America for real this time!
posted by Alvy Ampersand at 10:29 PM on March 3, 2014 [1 favorite]


I was just commenting on a post, and I thought about this thread, and made an effort to go back and work around using we, us, or our when I was trying to talk about America. It's not something that's all that easy to do, though I see the point of it. The one thing that feels off to it, to me, is that I no longer feel like my comments come through as comments by an American, about a situation in America, and could possibly be interpreted as a non-American slagging the States (which usually goes pretty well, as we can see in this thread). I do see it as worth the effort, especially in threads that aren't about the States, to understand the distinction is worth making, yet it's awkward as all hell, and a little bit like trying to write with your off hand.
posted by Ghidorah at 11:08 PM on March 3, 2014 [2 favorites]


I'm Canadian, yet have used the dreaded "we" any number of times in the American sense. Because there are a pile of cultural issues where I just don't feel much divergence from the basic American point of view. So why fight it? For instance, Mad Men's a very American TV show, but that suburb those kids are growing up in might as well be the Don Mills, Ontario of my youth.
posted by philip-random at 11:17 PM on March 3, 2014


So why fight it?

You, sir, are hereby stripped of your right to ever eat pancakes with Canadian maple syrup again.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 12:27 AM on March 4, 2014 [2 favorites]


So why fight it?

Because you'll end up accidentally justifying the use of USian, and engender another 400 comment MeTa indignationathon.
posted by pompomtom at 1:53 AM on March 4, 2014 [1 favorite]


"We" meaning "an English-speaking, culturally western Internet user" is probably on the overlap of the Venn diagram with "Americans", and indeed "users of Metafilter". Which might be why fights like this are so fierce, and get so personal - because, ultimately, it's a family argument. The sideswipes about Eton and the Falklands/Malvinas in this thread might reflect that; I'd hope that you wouldn't get the same kind of references coming up in the same conversation with an Indian or Ghanaian English speaker.
posted by running order squabble fest at 2:15 AM on March 4, 2014


Britons will certainly use "America" to mean... the conjoined landmasses made up of North and South America.

No, they won't. I have never heard anyone do this outside of history or geography - exemptions to the general usage. It is not true.

In the UK, "America" means "the United States of America". "American" means "someone from the United States of America". Two exceptions to this usage may indeed by (1) non-native English speakers and (2) some groups of left-wing people. I infer from this thread "USian" is the preferred term amongst the latter group. But they are rare exceptions.

We may elide Canada into the USA, but we wouldn't do that with Brazil or Mexico or Jamaica or anywhere else.

Hang on, I'm having some work done on the house. [goes out] OK, my plasterer and my joiner, when asked independently "What is America?" both answer "it's a country." I checked, and they explicitly don't mean "the continents of North and South America".
posted by alasdair at 3:40 AM on March 4, 2014 [6 favorites]


You, sir, are hereby stripped of your right to ever eat pancakes with Canadian maple syrup again.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 3:27 AM


I just felt the need to point this out
posted by nathancaswell at 3:46 AM on March 4, 2014 [1 favorite]


Well, if we've heard from both a plasterer and a joiner, there is hardly room for debate. I mean, the electricians might demur, but those guys love to start some shit. That's why they left Electrica in the first place.
posted by running order squabble fest at 3:52 AM on March 4, 2014 [4 favorites]


(There's a "seeking a more perfect [trade] union" joke in there somewhere, but I can't quite make it work...)
posted by running order squabble fest at 4:05 AM on March 4, 2014


I use the American Heritage Dictionary. A biased source on this particular question, obviously.

If that bothers you, by all means, use the USian Heritage Dictionary.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 4:07 AM on March 4, 2014


You, sir, are hereby stripped of your right to ever eat pancakes with Canadian maple syrup again.

It's OK - there's still Vermont.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 4:09 AM on March 4, 2014 [2 favorites]


I think we just stumbled upon Vermont's new state motto.
posted by nathancaswell at 4:10 AM on March 4, 2014 [5 favorites]


> We don't actually use the Oxford Dictionary.

Heh. We sho'nuff do if we have one. I have one (the flyspeck-condensed-type edition that comes with a magnifying glass) which I got as the $1 loss leader for joining the Book of the Month Club way long ago. It has been used, and used, and used.

> In America, we use Webster's Dictionary.

Not since Webster III, which refused on principle to call out preferred usage. Would no more touch it that Quidnunc would ever pat Boris Johnson's head (again.)
posted by jfuller at 4:32 AM on March 4, 2014


I have literally not touched Webster since it literally destroyed language by defining "literally" as usable to mean "figuratively".
posted by running order squabble fest at 5:16 AM on March 4, 2014 [2 favorites]


I've seen the New Oxford American Dictionary suggested as a good alternative for those who have abandoned Webster's, but the presence of the word "American" in the title shows the editors and lexicologists at the OED don't know their stuff. Is it dictionary of the English as it is spoken and written in the United States of America or English as it is written and spoken throughout the entire American supercontinent? Hard to say. The word American is just too ambiguous. If only they'd named it the New Oxford USAian Dictionary.
posted by Area Man at 6:15 AM on March 4, 2014 [4 favorites]


I remember being outside the Hassan II Mosque in Casablanca in the late 90's and hearing a woman in a group of people yell, "Doesn't anyone speak American 'round here?" in the most horrible accent I've ever heard. Still can't get it out of my head.
posted by gman at 6:46 AM on March 4, 2014 [2 favorites]


USian accents are less pronounced than American accents.
posted by planetesimal at 6:49 AM on March 4, 2014 [3 favorites]


Actually, there's an interesting thing going on there - if we're looking at politically-motivated terminology, why not the Oxford American English Dictionary? America, by which we mean here the USA, has no official language.

To answer my own question, I would assume that, since it is a fork of the New Oxford Dictionary of English, the "English" part is assumed to be implied by context. Also - fun fact - if you're using an Apple computer, you are probably already using the NOAD. In fact, wait a moment...
a land mass of the western hemisphere consisting of the continents of North and South America joined by the Isthmus of Panama.
• used as a name for the United States.
Huh. I have to admit, I was not expecting that.
posted by running order squabble fest at 7:17 AM on March 4, 2014 [1 favorite]


With 601 comments I was expecting to see the ABC game...
posted by valentinepig at 11:47 AM on March 4, 2014


And we're off....
posted by pearlybob at 11:52 AM on March 4, 2014


But there's so much more important debating over the term USian to be had.
posted by gman at 12:00 PM on March 4, 2014 [1 favorite]


Canadians.
posted by box at 12:19 PM on March 4, 2014 [3 favorites]


Doing recipes is also an option, but it might devolve into a recreation of the War of 1812 over what is actually meant by the word "biscuit".
posted by running order squabble fest at 12:31 PM on March 4, 2014 [2 favorites]


This is the most MetaFiltery of all MetaFilter threads ever.
posted by bongo_x at 12:39 PM on March 4, 2014 [2 favorites]


Is "metafiltery" pronounced with five distinct syllables or four, with the last sounding like the British pronunciation of "military"?
posted by planetesimal at 1:42 PM on March 4, 2014


We need to sample a representative segment of the population in order to ascertain which syllables are emphasized regionally.
posted by infini at 1:55 PM on March 4, 2014


flapjax at midnite: "You, sir, are hereby stripped of your right to ever eat pancakes with Canadian maple syrup again"

On National Pancake Day, no less. Harsh!
posted by Room 641-A at 2:25 PM on March 4, 2014 [4 favorites]


I don't see any need to joke about Toronto.
posted by mule98J at 6:28 PM on March 4, 2014


We should just annex Vancouver, eh?
posted by flabdablet at 7:25 PM on March 4, 2014


This has been one of the best threads on the site, let alone MeTa.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 4:35 AM on March 5, 2014


So, in conclusion, citizens and residents of the U.S. will henceforth be referred to as Vespuccilanders.
posted by Area Man at 6:02 AM on March 5, 2014 [5 favorites]


"Sup, Spootch", we can be heard to say, highfiving one another on our overly-wide metropolitan streets.
posted by cortex (staff) at 7:51 AM on March 5, 2014 [3 favorites]


Leftists will then insist on calling Vespuccilanders Eisenhowians (since Eisenhower "discovered" the current shape of the United States by signing the Alaska and Hawaii Statehood Acts), and the whole cycle begins again.
posted by running order squabble fest at 8:11 AM on March 5, 2014


This big dumb thread has almost wound down, but I do think it's maybe worth saying this. It was stated several times albeit politely and not especially loudly that Latin American people have--for generations--claimed "American" as a continental demonym (and use variations of, in English, yes, "USian," "estadounidenses," to distinguish between continental "americanos"). The objection to the very idea that there should be alternative demonyms to allow for this and the continual denials that this is even a thing seem to me to be coming from a place of privilege and ignorance. There is a history here, it is a contentious use of the word, this is not even especially obscure. How people in the US personally feel about the idea of it (which they think isn't real) is the least interesting, least classy route to have gone down here in a thread about US-centrism. If someone doesn't like being referred to by a term, that's fair to a certain extent, but you have to weigh the usefulness of the term, the need for it, the potential harm, etc. Qualifying US-Americans as US-Americans instead of continental-Americans is a useful distinction that I actually use in my life, and reacting negatively to simply doing that--which is an attempt to be more precise and more nice--smacks of the same kind of POV in which a person refuses to acknowledge "cisgender" or "straight" or what have you because "that's just normal." What's "normal" varies too much to be a reliable way to structure language.

Of course, this is an English speaking site, but there are Spanish speaking people and Latin Americans here. It's understandable that the site culture would lean a particular way, but the hostility expressed toward non-US, non-English-speaking perspectives in this thread is frankly hurtful. I'm not bothered by the use of a local "we," as such, but I am very upset at the casual dismissals of Latin American and extra-US POVs All. Over. This. Thread. No, I don't think it would especially cause confusion for me to not qualify USness when referring to a US national as "American," but yes, there is a history of using the word as a continental demonym and, no, how you feel about that does not undo time and erase it.
posted by byanyothername at 1:44 PM on March 5, 2014 [7 favorites]


Why is the way people in the U.S. feel so unimportant when discussing the demonym used to refer to them relative to your account of how people in Latin America feel? You say that's not interesting or classy, and is US-centric, but why isn't a U.S.-centric opinion the most important when discussing what people in the U.S. should be called? I simply don't understand your casual dismissal of the value of U.S. opinions on this specific subject. The term "American" is what most people in the U.S. use when speaking English and it doesn't actually cause confusion, as you admit. Why does usage in Spanish, which does have a perfectly good alternate denomym, have to trump usage in English, which does not have a good alternate term?

there is a history of using the word as a continental demonym and, no, how you feel about that does not undo time and erase it

There is a history of using the word American to refer to the residents of the United States of America that goes back more than two centuries. It is the most common term, by far, for such people in the English language and it is a term which is easily understood in almost all situations. How you feel about that doesn't changes that history or erase those usage patterns.
posted by Area Man at 2:12 PM on March 5, 2014 [6 favorites]


Honestly, the easiest solution seems to be, if one needs to specifically mark out that one is talking about [United States of] Americans rather than [Landmass of] Americans and that would not be implied by context, to use a loan word - estadounidenses. That, hopefully, won't read as a provocation in the way USian appears to, and has the advantage of being a rather pretty word.
posted by running order squabble fest at 2:25 PM on March 5, 2014


I don't see how that is easier than 'US Americans'.
posted by Too-Ticky at 2:31 PM on March 5, 2014


TBH, it probably isn't, in any objective way - it's just a term for which there's prior art.

Pragmatically, the goal is to have a term that can be applied when necessary without causing a lengthy derail about terminology. "USian" is clearly not that term, and while it could possibly be made so - as "cisgender" is being made so over time, to go back to ByAnyOtherName - I don't think it's a uniquely useful term, as "cisgender" is. That is, there are a number of terms meaning "a citizen and/or resident of the USA" as a noun and "as, of or pertaining to the USA" as an adjective - including "American", which is ambiguous in certain usages, estadounidense, which is not, and "USian", which is almost guaranteed to cause a storm and so, I feel, probably best avoided. Conversely, really the only word generally agreed to mean "identifying as one's birth-assigned gender (in a context where this is relevant)" is "cisgender" - it's not universally accepted, but it beats the heck out of the alternatives in a way "USian" doesn't.

Possibly "US American" would work - and by "work" here I mean communicate the desired meaning without derailing the thread.

(And possibly estadounidense wouldn't - it might upset people, too. So, maybe some experimentation is in order!)
posted by running order squabble fest at 2:44 PM on March 5, 2014 [1 favorite]


Prefiero 'americanos,' coma un expreso adulterado.
posted by estadounidenses at 2:47 PM on March 5, 2014


The USA is not the only "United States" on North America, much less the planet so I fail to see how it is a better solution.
posted by entropicamericana at 3:05 PM on March 5, 2014


And there is a Portland, Maine and a Portland, Oregon. How does anyone know where they live?
posted by running order squabble fest at 3:08 PM on March 5, 2014 [3 favorites]


Being USian means never having to care about geography, silly.
posted by planetesimal at 3:11 PM on March 5, 2014 [1 favorite]


Being USian means never having to care about geography, silly.

If Buzzfeed has taught me anything, it's that humans are generally very poor at geography. It's kind of astounding we even invented it.
posted by jetlagaddict at 3:14 PM on March 5, 2014


And there is a Portland, Maine and a Portland, Oregon. How does anyone know where they live?

I have been assured that what happens in Portland, ME can't strictly be called "living."
posted by GenjiandProust at 3:14 PM on March 5, 2014 [1 favorite]


That's a good point running order squabble fest, we really need unique names to identify citizens of Portland, Maine and Portland, Oregon, too. I suggest PMian and POian.
posted by entropicamericana at 3:16 PM on March 5, 2014 [1 favorite]


I thought we had settled on calling the Oregon ones "PDXers" - was I mistaken?
posted by rtha at 3:40 PM on March 5, 2014 [1 favorite]


The USA is not the only "United States" on North America

Yes it is. The official English version of Estados Unidos Mexicanos is "United Mexican States." So neither "United States" nor "US" have any actual possibility of confusion or ambiguty with the official name of that country.
posted by yoink at 4:00 PM on March 5, 2014 [1 favorite]


It's worth adding, by the way, that the "Estados Unidos" part of Mexico's name is so unused and so insignificant to Mexicans that Felipe Calderon proposed making a constitutional amendment to change the name of the country simply to "Mexico." It probably won't go anywhere, though, precisely because basically no one ever thinks of "Estados Unidos" as being a meaningful part of the country's name.
posted by yoink at 4:12 PM on March 5, 2014


FWIW the Spanish language term for the USA is "Los Estados Unidos". The Spanish language demonym for people from the United States is, as far as I learned in 5 years studying Spanish, borne out by my experience talking to people in a Spanish speaking country, "Americano/a".

I don't really know how we get around this argument and end up with a practical way of referring to the United States and/or Americans. Because all the words can be claimed by other people.

I've never introduced myself to anyone as an American from the US and had the other person be confused or think I meant a place or nationality other than the one I said.

(But don't even get me started on the tendency to refer to the US as "America". Blerg.)
posted by Sara C. at 4:20 PM on March 5, 2014


I thought we had settled on calling the Oregon ones "PDXers" - was I mistaken?

Portlandiers, surely?
posted by running order squabble fest at 4:43 PM on March 5, 2014 [1 favorite]


Portlandos Calrissian, actually.
posted by cortex (staff) at 4:50 PM on March 5, 2014 [2 favorites]


If Buzzfeed has taught me anything, it's that some other website posted that humans are generally very poor at geography.
posted by inigo2 at 5:24 PM on March 5, 2014 [2 favorites]


I thought we had settled on calling the Oregon ones "PDXers" - was I mistaken?

Do you pronounce that "pee-dee-echs-ers" "or "pee-dee-christ-ers?" See? More confusion.
posted by GenjiandProust at 5:25 PM on March 5, 2014 [1 favorite]


Also, the terminology preferences of Spanish-speaking countries don't really have anything to bear on what the English term is. In English, people from Germany are Germans, they are not Deutschen aus Deutschland.
posted by kafziel at 5:30 PM on March 5, 2014 [2 favorites]


Bitte, sprechen sie Englisch. Dies ist eine Amerikanische Webseite.

Oder ist es?

(Aufregend Akkord)
posted by running order squabble fest at 5:47 PM on March 5, 2014


Actually, how do I know that when someone says "German" they mean someone from the Federal Republic of Germany rather than Austrians, Swiss Germans, Pennsylvania Germans, Germans from Russia, or something else? Better invent a completely nonsensical word like FRGish (BRDisch) to avoid the misunderstanding that never existed!
posted by one more dead town's last parade at 7:11 PM on March 5, 2014 [3 favorites]


This so-called "discussion" is an embarrassment. Just pathetic.
posted by five fresh fish at 7:36 PM on March 5, 2014


Metafilter: This so-called "discussion" is an embarrassment. Just pathetic.
posted by Justinian at 7:38 PM on March 5, 2014 [1 favorite]


Metafilter: Just pathetic.
posted by nooneyouknow at 12:14 AM on March 6, 2014


Metafilter: "discussion".
posted by emmtee at 12:16 AM on March 6, 2014


Metafilter: This
posted by Too-Ticky at 12:17 AM on March 6, 2014


Metafilter: .
posted by flapjax at midnite at 12:59 AM on March 6, 2014


Th-th-th-that's all, folks!
posted by ersatz at 3:14 AM on March 6, 2014


Actually, how do I know that when someone says "German" they mean someone from the Federal Republic of Germany rather than Austrians, Swiss Germans, Pennsylvania Germans, Germans from Russia, or something else? Better invent a completely nonsensical word like FRGish (BRDisch) to avoid the misunderstanding that never existed!

Like, e.g. Ossi? Or indeed Osterreicher, Schweizerdeutsch etc...

I see the point you're trying to make, but I don't think this is a good example: arguing that the existence of German-speaking people outside the government of the largest self-governing German-speaking state is an irrelevance seems to be neglecting pretty much every important European (and later global, when Germany became the border of the European front in the Cold War) territorial conflict of the 20th century.
posted by running order squabble fest at 7:06 AM on March 6, 2014


arguing that the existence of German-speaking people outside the government of the largest self-governing German-speaking state is an irrelevance

I'm not arguing any such thing. My point was that if I say that the American president and German chancellor are trying to negotiate with the Russian president, none of those adjectives is at all unclear to someone without an axe to grind.
posted by one more dead town's last parade at 7:52 AM on March 6, 2014 [3 favorites]


Well, that's kind of not what you said, but sure. Context provides a clear sense in that example - the German Chancellor is clearly the Chancellor of Germany, the Russian President is clearly the President of Russia, the American President is pretty clearly the President of the USA.

Not only is this uncontroversial, I already gave exactly that example, here. It's a long thread, and it gets quite heated, but it is worth reading if this stuff is interesting to you.

(Whereas "Germans in the Sudetenland" at one point, or indeed "Russians in Crimea" at the moment, are absolutely freighted with meaning.)
posted by running order squabble fest at 8:00 AM on March 6, 2014


I already gave exactly that example, here. It's a long thread, and it gets quite heated, but it is worth reading if this stuff is interesting to you.

I have actually been reading the thread, and I saw that example (even though British speakers of English basically never use "America" by itself to mean the continents).

There was an article a few hours ago about how one in three Germans ("jeder dritte Deutsche") expects there to be war over the Crimea. Nobody seriously expects that this poll included anyone in Vienna or Zurich.
posted by one more dead town's last parade at 8:47 AM on March 6, 2014


Well, precisely - context is clear. It would be very odd if a newspaper had polled every German speaker in the world - I mean, why would you do that, especially on a topic not of unique interest or significance to the Germanosphere? So, "jeder dritte Deutsche", in a German publication read by a German audience (in both cases meaning "based in Germany") is very likely to mean "Germans" (as in people based in Germany).

It feels like you're kind of saying 'This stupid thing that nobody has said is stupid". Which, yeah? I mean, sure. Absolutely. But I think this is why often analogies serve to obfuscate more than clarify.
posted by running order squabble fest at 8:58 AM on March 6, 2014


"It was stated several times albeit politely and not especially loudly that Latin American people have--for generations--claimed 'American' as a continental demonym (and use variations of, in English, yes, 'USian,' 'estadounidenses,' to distinguish between continental 'americanos'). The objection to the very idea that there should be alternative demonyms to allow for this and the continual denials that this is even a thing seem to me to be coming from a place of privilege and ignorance. There is a history here, it is a contentious use of the word, this is not even especially obscure. How people in the US personally feel about the idea of it (which they think isn't real) is the least interesting, least classy route to have gone down here in a thread about US-centrism."

A million times this.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 9:22 AM on March 8, 2014 [6 favorites]


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