What is an American?

Map of North and South America, 1747.

In Colombian schools, students are taught that there are six continents.

Do a quick run through (Asia, Europe, Africa, Oceania, Antarctica, North and South America), and this seems a bit odd.  Most of the world totals the number of continents at seven, not six.  So what gives?

Colombians, and many other Latin Americans, consider North and South America as one continent.  The two giant land masses are, after all, connected through a land bridge in Panama (the Panama Canal notwithstanding), and drawing the north/south line on the border of Panama and Colombia seems a bit superfluous really.  Central America (which is a common heading, but not its own continent), is far more connected culturally to South America than to its official designation of North America, and the Caribbean just gets confusing as well.

So while I’ll probably argue for seven continents, not six, it is hard to know where to draw that line.  We are, after all, all Americans.

Which brings me to a linguistically detail. I tend to use the longer but more precise adjective of “U.S. American” vs. “American” to describe someone or something from the United States. It is a bit cumbersome, but unfortunately neither English nor Spanish has a good adjective for a person from the USA.

American or americano is simply too broad: the United States is but one of thirty-five countries in North and South America.

In Spanish, norteamericano is a common term, but then we still have the problem of covering all of North America.  It can be used to mean north of Mexico, but then how to distinguish myself from my Canadian neighbors?  There is also the almost unpronounceable estadounidense, but even Mexico is made of different united states, so again not a perfect solution.

So in English, I will continue to use U.S. American.  Feel free to disagree or complain, but I figure I can handle typing two more letters every time.

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s