The term “American”

Depending on who you ask, the word "American" can imply many different things. While some people view it as a term of pride and others as an insult, the true definition rests somewhere in the middle of these two extremes. Regardless of how you define it, the word "American" is one of the great enigmas of linguistic debate around the world. The editors of the language blog for the French daily Le Monde, Martine Rousseau and Olivier Houdart, have one of the best definitions this author has yet to come across. They state “American' is a multi-layered word, of which the meaning varies depending on context, and which can illustrate a form of set theory: all Americans (of the U.S.) are American, and yet all Americans [i.e. of the continent] are not American (of the U.S.)!” (qtd. in Martinez-Carter, para. 9).

The above definition is especially pertinent when discussing the term “American” with anyone from Latin America. People from Latin America feel that the United States incorrectly coopts the term “American” to mean only people from the U.S. when in the Latin American way of thinking “America is a region, not a country” (Martinez-Carter). This is a reasonable statement of fact and if this is true what’s all the hubbub about? Even Merriam-Webster lists three separate and distinct definitions for the word “American.” The first, “an American Indian of North America or South America”, the second, “a native or inhabitant of North America or South America” and third, “a citizen of the U.S.” (Merriam-Webster). Overall, one must take great care to use the term “American” at the proper time, in the proper way, and in the proper place to avoid being labelled as arrogant, ignorant, or socially inept.

Works Cited

"American." Merriam-Webster online. Accessed February 16, 2017.

Martinez-Carter, Karina. “What Does 'American' Actually Mean?” The Atlantic website. Accessed February 16, 2017.

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