Linguist, lexicographer, writer, editor, broadcaster

America’s identity theft: what to call an American instead of “American”? And in French?

Martine Rousseau and Olivier Houdart, copy editors for the French newspaper Le Monde who also co-edit the blog Langue Sauce Piquante (which I’ve linked to from the cohort page for years), address a long-standing issue: if “American” should apply to all people from North, Central, and South America, then what should we call citizens of the United States of America?

When we published a note on our language blog defending the use of États-Uniens—the word is neither pretty nor musical, but it answers a certain need—we had an outpouring of responses. They ranged from absolute opposition to the word (because of its supposed anti-Americanism, its ugliness, its snobbishness, its sarcastic tone, its usefulness only for academics—and because it sounds like space aliens) to enthusiastic approval, notably as a counter to the “imperialist” appropriation of a whole continent by one country’s ethnonym.

I, too , find “États-Uniens” to be unwieldy, ugly, and unlikely to succeed, just like “Usians” and “Usans” and “USAns,” the latter three which also have the tendency to be over-used earnestly and insistently by blowhards and know-it-alls.

Perhaps we should consider any of these from David Letterman:

Top Ten British Nicknames for Americans:

10. Star-spangled ninnies
9. K-Mart cowboys
8. Ameridorks
7. Newts
6. Velveeta-eating hyenas
5. Regis-loving geeks
4. Mighty Morphin pinheads
3. Tea-dumping psychos
2. Jerks 90210
1. Gumps

Or Top Ten Canadian Nicknames for Americans

10. Skinny bacon lovers
9. Willard-watchers
8. Continent hogs
7. Unmounties
6. Surfboard-riding goofballs
5. Individually wrapped cheese slice junkies
4. Upper Mexicans
3. Pizza-gorged convertible jockeys
2. Star-spangled sissy boys
1. Sununus

Or Top Ten Norwegian Nicknames for Americans:

10. Star-Spangled Ninnies
9. Opraholics
8. Djorks
7. Knee-Clubbers
6. Gap-Toothed T.V. Boy (Actually, that’s just you, David)
5. Tommymoes
4. Nordic Track Sissies
3. Gilloolys
2. McButtheads
1. Bobbitteers

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Grant Barrett