The meaning of the word American in the English language varies according to the historical, geographical, and political context in which it is used.
'American' is derived from America, a term originally denoting all of the New World (also called "the Americas"). In some expressions it retains this pan-American sense, but its usage has evolved over time and, for various historical reasons, the word came to denote people or things specifically from the United States of America.
In modern English, "Americans" generally refers to residents of the United States, and among native speakers of English this usage is almost universal, with any other use of the term requiring specification of the subject under discussion. However, this ambiguity has been the source of controversy, particularly among Latin Americans, who feel that using the term solely for the United States misappropriates it.
The word can be used as both a noun and an adjective. In adjectival use, it is generally understood to mean "of or relating to the United States"; for example, "Elvis Presley was an American singer" or "the American President gave a speech today". In noun form, it generally means U.S. citizen or national (see Names for U.S. citizens). The noun is rarely used in American English to refer to people not connected to the United States. When used with a grammatical qualifier, the adjective American can mean "of or relating to the Americas", as in Latin American or Indigenous American. Less frequently, the adjective can take this meaning without a qualifier, as in "American Spanish dialects and pronunciation differ by country", or the name of the Organization of American States. A third use of the term pertains specifically to the indigenous peoples of the Americas, for instance, "In the 16th century, many Americans died from imported diseases during the European conquest".
Other languages 
The French, Portuguese, German, and Italian languages use cognates of the word "American", in denoting "U.S. citizen". In Spanish, americano denotes geographic and cultural origin in the New World, as well as infrequently a U.S. citizen; the adjective and noun, denoting estadounidense (United States person), derives from Estados Unidos de América (United States of America). The Spanish term norteamericano (North American), is frequently used to refer things and persons from the United States, but this term can also denote people and things from Canada, and the rest of North America.
The Spanish words estadounidense (United States person), yanqui (Yankee), and gringo are Spanish terms denoting U.S. things and persons. In personal denotation, "gringo" means estadounidense, in particular, and anglophones in general, and, linguistically, any speech not Spanish, i.e. "She is speaking gringo, not Spanish". Cognate usages may cause cultural friction between U.S. nationals and Latin Americans who object to American English's exclusionary denotations of 'American'.
Portuguese has americano, denoting both a person or thing from the Americas and a U.S. national. For referring specifically to a U.S. national and things, the words used are estadunidense (also spelled estado-unidense) (United States person), from Estados Unidos da América, and ianque (Yankee), but the term most often used is norte-americano, even though it could, as with its Spanish equivalent, in theory apply to Canadians, Mexicans, etc., as well. In French, états-unien, étas-unien or étasunien, from États-Unis d'Amérique, is a rarely used word that distinguishes U.S. things and persons from the adjective américain, which denotes persons and things from the United States but may also refer to 'the Americas'; likewise, the German usages U.S.-amerikanisch and U.S.-Amerikaner observe said cultural distinction, solely denoting U.S. things and people. It is important to note that these are "politically correct" terms and that in normal parlance, the adjective "American" and its direct cognates are almost always used unless the context does not render the nationality of the person clear. For example, the word "Amerika" in German has a one-to-one equivalence to its meaning in modern English: it may denote North America, South America, or both, and in some instances refers to the United States only.
History of the word 
The derivation of America has several explanatory naming theories. The most common is Martin Waldseemüller's deriving it from Americus Vespucius, the Latinised version of Amerigo Vespucci's name, the Italian merchant and cartographer who explored South America's east coast and the Caribbean sea in the early 16th century. Later, his published letters were the basis of Waldseemüller's 1507 map, which is the first usage of America. The adjective American subsequently denotes the New World's peoples and things.
16th-century European usage of American denoted the native inhabitants of the New World. The earliest recorded use of this term in English is in Thomas Hacket's 1568 translation of André Thévet's book on France Antarctique; Thévet himself had referred to the natives as Ameriques. In the following century the term was extended to European settlers and their descendants in the Americas. The earliest recorded use of this term in English dates to 1648, in Thomas Gage's The English-American: A New Survet of the West Indies. In English, "American" was used especially for people in the British America, and came to be applied to citizens of the United States when the country was formed. The Declaration of Independence refers to "[the] unanimous Declaration of the thirteen united States of America" adopted by the "Representatives of the united States of America" on July 4, 1776. The official name of the country was established on November 15, 1777, when the Second Continental Congress adopted the Articles of Confederation, the first of which says, "The Stile of this Confederacy shall be 'The United States of America' ". The confederation articles further state: "In Witness whereof we have hereunto set our hands in Congress. Done at Philadelphia in the State of Pennsylvania the ninth day of July in the Year of our Lord One Thousand Seven Hundred and Seventy-Eight, and in the Third Year of the independence of America." Common short forms and abbreviations are the United States, the U.S., the U.S.A., and America. Colloquial versions are the U.S. of A. and the States. The term Columbia (from the Columbus surname), was a popular name for the U.S. and for the entire geographic Americas; its usage is restricted to the District of Columbia name. Moreover, the womanly personification of Columbia appears in some official documents, including editions of the U.S. dollar.
In the Federalist Papers, Alexander Hamilton and James Madison use American with two different meanings, political and geographic; "the American republic" in Federalist Paper 51 and in Federalist Paper 70, and, in Federalist Paper 24, Hamilton's American usage denotes the lands beyond the U.S.'s political borders:
Though a wide ocean separates the United States from Europe, yet there are various considerations that warn us against an excess of confidence or security. On one side of us, and stretching far into our rear, are growing settlements subject to the dominion of Britain. On the other side, and extending to meet the British settlements, are colonies and establishments subject to the dominion of Spain. This situation and the vicinity of the West India Islands, belonging to these two powers create between them, in respect to their American possessions and in relation to us, a common interest.
United States President George Washington's farewell in 1796 says: "The name of American, which belongs to you in your national capacity, must always exalt the just pride of patriotism more than any appellation".
Originally, the name "the United States" was plural—"the United States are"—a usage found in the U.S. Constitution's Thirteenth Amendment (1865), but its current common usage is singular—"the United States is". The plural is set in the idiom "these United States".
Before the Constitutional Convention, several country names were proffered, the most popular being "Columbia". The problems of "the United States of America" as a name (long, awkward, imprecise) were discussed; the Constitution ignores the matter, using "the United States of America" and "the United States". The name "Colombia" (derived from Christopher Columbus; Sp: Cristóbal Colón, It: Cristoforo Colombo), was proposed by the revolutionary Francisco de Miranda to denote the New World—especially Spain's and Portugal's American territories and colonies; it was used in the country names Republic of Columbia and the United States of Colombia.
Early official U.S. documents betray inconsistent usage; the 1778 Treaty of Alliance with France uses "the United States of North America" in the first sentence, then uses "the said United States" afterwards; "the United States of America" and "the United States of North America" derive from "the United Colonies of America" and "the United Colonies of North America". The Treaty of Peace and Amity of September 5, 1795 between the United States and the Barbary States contains the usages "the United States of North America", "citizens of the United States", and "American Citizens".
Semantic divergence among Anglophones did not affect the Spanish colonies. In 1801, the document titled Letter to American Spaniards—published in French (1799), in Spanish (1801), and in English (1808)—might have influenced Venezuela's Act of Independence and its 1811 constitution.
The Latter-day Saints' Articles of Faith refer to the American continent as where they are to build Zion. The Old Catholic Encyclopedia's usage of America is as "the Western Continent or the New World". It discusses American republics, ranging from the U.S. to "the republic of Mexico, the Central American republics of Guatemala, Honduras, San Salvador, Nicaragua, Costa Rica, Leon, and Panama; the Antillian republics of Haiti, Santo Domingo, and Cuba, and the South American republics of Venezuela, Colombia, Brazil, Ecuador, Peru, Bolivia, Paraguay, the Argentine, and Chile".
Usage at the United Nations 
Use of the term American for U.S. nationals is common in United Nations. The Secretary General refers to people from the United States as Americans, as has the UN High Commissioner for Refugees. The UN has referred to financial markets in the United States as "American financial markets".
Political and cultural views 
Spain and Spanish America 
The use of American as a national demonym for U.S. nationals is challenged, primarily by Latin Americans. All Spanish speakers in Spain and Latin America use the term estadounidense to refer to people and things from the United States (from Estados Unidos), while americano refers to the continent as a whole. Through the 1992 edition the Diccionario de la lengua española, published by the Real Academia Española, did not include the United States definition in the entry for americano; this was added in the 2001 edition. The Diccionario specifically advises against using americanos exclusively for U.S. nationals:
Pero debe evitarse el empleo de americano para referirse exclusivamente a los habitantes de los Estados Unidos, uso abusivo que se explica por el hecho de que los estadounidenses utilizan a menudo el nombre abreviado América (en inglés, sin tilde) para referirse a su país. No debe olvidarse que América es el nombre de todo el continente y son americanos todos los que lo habitan.
But the use of americano to refer exclusively to inhabitants of the United States should be avoided; this abusive usage is explained by the fact that U.S. citizens often use the abbreviated name América (in English, without an accent) to refer to their country. One should not forget that América is the name of the entire continent and all who inhabit it are americanos.
Prior to Confederation in 1867, the word "Canadian" referred only to residents of the colony of Canada, which consisted of the territory of modern Quebec and Ontario. The term did not apply to residents of the colonies of New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island or Newfoundland. Collectively, the British colonies were known as British North America, and their residents referred to themselves as "British Americans".
Modern Canadians typically refer to people from the United States as "Americans", though they seldom refer to the United States as "America", using the terms "the United States", "the U.S.", or (informally) "the States" instead. Canadians rarely apply the term "American" to themselves – some Canadians resent being referred to as Americans because of mistaken assumptions that they are U.S. citizens or an inability, particularly of people overseas, to distinguish Canadian English and American English accents. Some Canadians have protested the use of American as a national demonym. People of U.S. ethnic origin in Canada are categorized as "American (U.S.)" by Statistics Canada for purposes of census counts.
Portugal and Brazil 
Generally, americano denotes "U.S. citizen" in Portugal. Usage of americano to exclusively denote people and things of the U.S. is discouraged by the Academia das Ciências de Lisboa (Lisbon Academy of Sciences), because the specific word estado-unidense (also estadunidense) clearly denotes a person from the United States. The term currently used by the Portuguese press is norte-americano.
In Brazil, the term americano (American) is used to address both that which pertains to the American continent and, in current speech, that which pertains to the U.S.A. (the particular meaning is deduced from context). Alternatively the term "norte-americano" (North American) is also used in more informal contexts while "estadunidense" (U.S. citizen or thing) is the preferred form in academia. Use of the three terms is common in schools, government and media. The term "América" (America) on the other hand is used almost exclusively for the continent as the U.S.A. are called "Estados Unidos" (United States) or "Estados Unidos da América" (United States of America), often abbreviated to "EUA" (USA).
The Getting Through Customs website advises business travellers not to use "in America" as a U.S. reference when conducting business in Brazil.
United States 
The United States Census Bureau reports 7.3 percent of U.S. residents to be of "United States or American" ancestry based on responses to the 2000 Census long-form questionnaire (1 in 6 sample). Discrete responses of United States and American or an ambiguous response or a state-name response (excluding Hawaii) were aggregated as "United States or American". Distinct racial, ethnic, and cultural groups such as "American Indian", "Mexican American", "African American", and "Hawaiian" were coded separately.
'American' in other contexts 
'American' in the 'Associated Press Stylebook' (1994) is defined as: "An acceptable description for a resident of the United States. It also may be applied to any resident or citizen of nations in North or South America". Elsewhere, the AP Stylebook indicates that "United States" must "be spelled out when used as a noun. Use U.S. (no space) only as an adjective".
'The New York Times Manual of Style and Usage' (1999) 'America' entry reads: the "terms 'America', 'American(s)' and 'Americas' refer not only to the United States, but to all of North America and South America. They may be used in any of their senses, including references to just the United States, if the context is clear. The countries of the Western Hemisphere are collectively 'the Americas'".
American in international law 
At least one international law uses "U.S. citizen" in defining a citizen of the United States rather than American citizen such as this excerpt from the North American Free Trade Agreement:
Only air carriers that are U.S. citizens are permitted to operate domestic air services or operate international air services as a "U.S." carrier; non-U.S. citizens may own and control foreign air carriers that operate between the U.S. and foreign points.
Many other international treaties use the term American and American citizen. The Thailand Treaty of Amity protects Americans and American companies. The Treaty between the United States and the Dey of the Regency of Algiers on March 7, 1796 protected American citizens. The Louisiana Purchase Treaty between France and United States referred to American citizens. The 1858 Treaty of Amity and Commerce between the United States and Japan protected American citizens and also used the term American. The Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo between Mexico and the U.S. uses the term American Government to refer to the United States, and American tribunals to refer to U.S. courts. The 1825 treaty between the United States and the Cheyenne tribe refers to American citizen. The Treaty of Paris ending the Spanish–American War, known as Guerra Hispano-Estadounidense in Spanish, uses the word American in reference to United States troops.
American in U.S. commercial regulation 
Products that are labelled, advertised, and marketed in the U.S. as "American Made" must be "all or virtually all made in the U.S." The Federal Trade Commission, to prevent deception of customers and unfair competition, considers an unqualified claim of "American Made" to expressly claim exclusive manufacture in the U.S. "The FTC Act gives the Commission the power to bring law enforcement actions against false or misleading claims that a product is of U.S. origin."
U.S. national in other languages 
English, French, German, Italian, Japanese, Hebrew, Arabic, Portuguese, and Russian speakers may use the term American to refer to either inhabitants of the Americas or to U.S. nationals. They generally have other terms specific to U.S. nationals, such as German US-Amerikaner, French étatsunien, Japanese 米国人 beikokujin, Arabic أمريكاني amriikaanii (as opposed to the more-common أمريكي amriikii), and Italian statunitense, but these may be less common than the term American. Adjectives derived from "United States" (such as United Statesian) are awkward in English, but similar constructions exist in Spanish (estadounidense), Portuguese (estado-unidense, estadunidense), Finnish (yhdysvaltalainen: from Yhdysvallat, United States), as well as in French (états-unien), and Italian (statunitense).
In Spanish, at least one reference reports estadounidense, estado-unidense or estadunidense are preferred to americano for U.S. nationals; the latter tends to refer to any resident of the Americas and not necessarily from the United States. In Portuguese, estado-unidense (or estadunidense) is the recommended form by language regulators but today it is less frequently used than americano and norte-americano. Latin Americans also may employ the term norteamericano (North American), which conflates the United States, Canada and Mexico.
With the 1994 passage of the North American Free Trade Agreement, the following words were used to label the United States Section of that organization: in French, étatsunien; in Spanish, estadounidense. In English the adjective used to indicate relation to the United States is U.S.
The word Gringo is widely used in parts of Latin America in reference to U.S. residents, often in a pejorative way but not necessarily. Yanqui (Yankee) is also very common in some regions, but it is usually pejorative. Throughout Latin America the word Gringo is also used for any foreigner from the United States, Canada, or Europe, however the true sense of the word is any foreigner.
In other languages, however, there is no possibility for confusion. Chinese měiguórén for example, is derived from a word for the United States, měiguó, where měi is an abbreviation for Yàměilìjiā "America" and guó is "country". The name for the continent of America is měizhōu, from měi plus zhōu "continent". Thus a měizhōurén is an American in the generic sense, and a měiguórén is an American in the U.S. sense. Similar words are found in Korean and Vietnamese. In Swahili, the more naturalized word Marekani means specifically the United States, and Wamarekani are U.S. nationals, whereas the international form Amerika refers to the continent, and Waamerika are the inhabitants thereof. Likewise, the Esperanto word Ameriko refers only to the continent. For the country there is the term Usono, cognate with the English word Usonia later popularized by Frank Lloyd Wright. Thus a citizen of the United States is an usonano, whereas an amerikano is an inhabitant of the Americas.
Alternative adjectives for U.S. citizens 
There are a number of alternatives to the demonym "American" (a citizen of the United States) that do not simultaneously mean any inhabitant of the Americas. One uncommon alternative is "Usonian", which usually describes a certain style of residential architecture designed by Frank Lloyd Wright. Over the years, many other alternatives have also surfaced, but most have long fallen into disuse and obscurity. Merriam-Webster's Dictionary of English Usage says, "The list contains (in approximate historical order from 1789 to 1939) such terms as Columbian, Columbard, Fredonian, Frede, Unisian, United Statesian, Colonican, Appalacian, Usian, Washingtonian, Usonian, Uessian, U-S-ian, Uesican, United Stater." Nevertheless, no alternative to "American" is common.
See also 
||This article has an unclear citation style. (April 2010)|
- Wilson, Kenneth G. (1993). The Columbia Guide to Standard American English New York: Columbia University Press, pp. 27–28. ISBN 0-231-06989-8.
- Mencken, H. L. (December 1947). "Names for Americans". American Speech (American Speech, Vol. 22, No. 4) 22 (4): 241–256. doi:10.2307/486658. JSTOR 486658. More than one of
- Walter S. Avis, Patrick D. Drysdale, Robert J. Gregg, Victoria E. Eeufeldt, Mattheew H. Scargill (1983). Gage Canadian Dictionary. Toronto: Gage Publishing Limited, p. 37. ISBN 0-7715-9122-5 pbk.
- Diccionario de la lengua española de la Real Academia Española, rae.es
- Diccionario de la lengua española de la Real Academia Española, norteamericano rae.es
- Diccionario de la lengua española de la Real Academia Española, gringo, second aception: "said of a language: foreign".
- Dicionário Priberam da Língua Portuguesa, priberam.pt
- "American". From the Oxford English Dictionary. Retrieved November 27, 2008.
- "The Charters of Freedom". National Archives. Archived from the original on 9 June 2007. Retrieved 2007-06-20.
- James Madison. "The Federalist no. 51".
- Alexander Hamilton. "The Federalist no. 70".
- Hamilton, Alexander. "The Powers Necessary to the Common Defense Further Considered". The Federalist Papers 24.
- "Washington's Farewell Address 1796". From The Avalon Project. Retrieved November 10, 2008.
- Zimmer, Benjamin (2005-11-24). "Life in These, uh, This United States". Language Log. University of Pennsylvania. Archived from the original on 20 February 2008. Retrieved 2008-02-22.
- "The Barbary Treaties: Treaty of Peace and Amity".
- "La "Carta dirigida a los españoles americanos", una carta que recorrió muchos caminos...". (Spanish)
- Articles of Faith 1
- Catholic Encyclopedia: America
- "American Samoa". United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs, Population Division. Retrieved August 6, 2009.
- Real Academia Española, Diccionario de la lengua española, 2001, estadounidense
- Real Academia Española, Diccionario de la lengua española, 2001 (22nd edition), americano, first meaning defines americano as from América (the continent).
- Real Academia Española, Diccionario de la lengua española, 2001 (22nd edition), americano, fourth meaning (not present in 1992) defines americano as estadounidense.
- Real Academia Española, Diccionario usual, 1992 (21st edition), p. 89. Available beginning from http://buscon.rae.es/ntlle/SrvltGUILoginNtlle and using the magnifying glass icon.
- Diccionario panhispánico de dudas, Estados Unidos
- Fee, Margery and McAlpine, J. 1997. Oxford Guide to Canadian English Usage. (ISBN 0-19-541619-8) Toronto: Oxford University Press; p. 36.
- de Ford, Miriam Allen (April 1927). "On the difficulty of indicating nativity in the United States". American Speech: 315.
- Morrison, Terri. "Doing business abroad - Brazil".
- United States - QT-P13. Ancestry: 2000
- "North American Free Trade Agreement". October 7, 1992.
- Complying with the Made In the USA Standard
- Japanese: アメリカ人 amerika-jin
- Russian: американец, американка,
- Pequeño Larousse Ilustrado 1992 edition, look up word Americano: Contains the Observation: Debe evitarse el empleo de americano con el sentido de norteamericano o de los Estados Unidos (trans. Usage of the word with the meaning of U.S. citizen or the United States must be avoided).
- "norteamericano" Real Academia Española. 2005. Diccionario panhispánico de dudas. Madrid: Santillana. (in Spanish)
- Standard Mandarin pronunciation; written 美國人 (traditional), 美国人 (simplified)
- 미국(인) Migug(in) vs. 아메리카(인) Amerika(in)
- (người) Hoa Kỳ 花旗 vs. (người) Châu Mỹ 洲美; the term for the U.S. is taken from its flag.
- Japanese has such terms as well, 米国(人) beikoku(jin) vs. 米洲人 beishū(jin), but they are found more in newspaper headlines than in speech, where amerikajin predominates.
- Merriam-Webster's Dictionary of English Usage, p. 88. Merriam-Webster: 1994.
- The Columbia Guide to Standard American English.
Scholarly sources 
- Allen, Irving L. (1983). The Language of Ethnic Conflict: Social Organization and Lexical Culture. New York: Columbia University Press.
- Condon, J.C. (1986). J.M. Valdes, ed. Culture bound: Bridging the cultural gap in language teaching. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press. pp. 85–93. Chapter 8: “...So near the United States”.
- Herbst, Philip H. (1997). Color of Words: An Encyclopaedic Dictionary of Ethnic Bias in the United States. ISBN 1-877864-42-0.
- Ryle, John (September 7, 1998). "The trouble with Americans". The Guardian.
- Diccionario de la Lengua Española entry for americano