The E-Sylum:  Volume 7, Number 4, January 25, 2004, Article 21


  Regarding Chick Ambrass' comments from last week,
  Ray Williams writes: "Although I agree with Chick's
  points in his article, I think he actually meant to say British
  Colonies instead of American colonies."

  Doug Andrews writes: "I had to re-read Chick Ambrass's
  comments several times to make sure I wasn't seeing things!
  He asserts: "In 1688 when the letters in reference were
  written... Canada was part of the American colonies."

  Nice try, but his account of Canadian history is a little off
  to say the least. In 1688, in fact, what is now Canada was
  governed as four separate entities. Nova Scotia and
  Newfoundland were colonies directly under the British
  Crown, New France (comprised of much of central Canada)
  was a French colony and remained so until 1759, and the
  areas around Hudson's Bay were in fact the exclusive
  property of a private company, The Hudson's Bay Trading

  The last was by far the largest, covering most of present
  day northern Ontario and Quebec, as well as Manitoba
  and the Territories, and it wasn't a colony of any country.
  The remainder of present day Canada was either a British
  settlement governed separately from the "Thirteen Colonies,"
  or a French overseas possession. Their relationship with the
  British colonies stretching from New Hampshire to Georgia
  thus was tenuous at best.

  If his inference was that Canada somehow fell into the orbit
  of the Thirteen Colonies, he is mistaken.

  Mr. Ambrass's reference to whether inhabitants of North or
  South America outside of the US are "Americans" raises a
  valid point, however. The issue is resolved by clarifying that
  Canadians and Mexicans are "North Americans;"  Brazilians,
  for example, are "South Americans." The more difficult
  question of the day is whether the British consider themselves

  Ted Buttrey replies: To put the thing in its geographical and its
  historical context:  All of the Americas (that name itself is an
  accident), North and South, were infested with colonies from
  various European nations; and all of those nations, as far as
  I'm aware, referred to their colonists as "Americans",
  regardless of where they came from or where they settled.
  The colonies themselves bore names that were either
  European in origin (New Galicia) or indigenous (Guatemala).

  When 13 separate British colonies got out from under British
  rule they were each an independent nation -- "state" --, and
  each had its own name -- Massachusetts, Rhode Island, etc.
  When they subsequently agreed to form a federate union they
  had no common name for the federation and had to make one
  up.  So "United States" must have been obvious, though
  personally I would have preferred "States United" or "States
  in Union", emphasizing that each was still maintaining its own
  sovereignty.  But I wonder whether the term "United States"
  wasn't modeled on the "United Provinces" of the Lowlands.

  As to "of America", it's clear from all the sources that the
  separation from Britain was more than political.  Over the
  decades the people of the British Colonies came to feel that
  they were their own kind of people, no longer just Europeans
  who had moved elsewhere.  (And of course it was that
  growing feeling that the British tried to suppress, e.g. by
  requiring the trade of each colony to move via the motherland,
  and restricting trade among the several colonies.)  So
  "of America" made clear both where this was happening,
  geographically, and politically the severance from Europe.

  Remember too that at the time the USA was the only
  independent nation of the Western Hemisphere.  Everybody
  else inhabited a colony that was an arm of some European
  nation.  So in that sense the inhabitants of the USA were
  the only people that could be described politically, nationally,
  as Americans.

  The problem that bugs Chick, and indeed continues to annoy
  many south of the Rio Grande, is our habit of referring to
  ourselves, exclusively, as "Americans", as against "Mexicans",
  "Guatemalans", etc.  But really this is a problem that grows
  out of language -- as he notices -- not out of a superior
  cultural or historical or political attitude.  "United States of
  America" is more a label, a description, than a name, and the
  fact is that the English language does not lend itself to
  "United Statser".

  The adjectives derived from place names are various in form
  yet can be very specific.  I remember a political cartoon of
  years ago when Bobby Kennedy moved his legal residence
  from Massachusetts to New York so that he could run for
  the Senate from there: he was sketched addressing his new
  political audience, "Fellow New Yorkites..."

  That makes its point: there are proper and improper ways
  of doing this.  But there is simply no way to derive a proper
  adjective from "United States of America".  It can be done
  in other languages: in Spanish each of us is an
  "Estadounidense", in Italian, "Statunitese".  We're stuck with
  "American", I'm afraid.  It was never intended to be offensive,
  but it has come to be so with some folks, and you can only try
  to get them to understand."

  Wayne Homren, Editor

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