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El Pais, Spain

American or U.S. Citizen?

By Tomàs Delclós

Translated By Adam Zimmerman

29 November 2012

Edited by Lau­ren Gerken

Spain - El Pais - Original Article (Spanish)

Reader Mauricio Ordóñez, an “American from Costa Rica,” sent a letter about a persistently confusing issue: the use of the term “American” to identify a citizen of the U.S. His reflection is as follows:

“In Spanish ’American’ [americano] is not synonymous with ‘U.S. citizen’ [estadounidense]. It is linguistically, logically and politically incorrect. Although the Royal Spanish Academy dictionary consigns in its forth usage the equivalence of the use of ‘American’ for U.S. citizen, the highly regarded Diccionario Panhispánico de Dudas is aware of this impropriety and categorically states: ‘One should avoid the use of American to refer exclusively to residents of the United States, an incorrect usage which is explained by the fact that people from the U.S. frequently use the short name America to refer to their country. It should not be forgotten that America is the name of the entire continent and all who inhabit it are Americans.’ It is linguistically incorrect because it leads to ambiguity. On the contrary, when we say U.S. citizen there is no ambiguity, and we are clearly referring to nationals of the U.S. The root of this problem is logical and visible using simple set theory: The U.S. does not contain all Americans; many Americans are not part of the U.S. (The analogy with Mexico or Brazil does not hold. All Brazilians are part of the Federal Republic of Brazil. All Mexicans are part of the United States of Mexico.) It is politically incorrect because it allows the appropriation of the name America by the U.S., which is bothersome for many Americans in the rest of the continent.

The problem with the U.S. is that it never picked a proper name for itself, since its name alludes to a type of political organization located in a continent. A similar problem is seen among residents of the European Community or the European Union who lack an adjective to refer to themselves, other than the word ‘European.’ Therefore, we ask that you make use of the correct Spanish term in this highly delicate matter and give the appropriate linguistic guidance to your journalists. Millions of Americans will thank you.”



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