The Random Comic Strip

The Random Comic Strip

Words to live by...

"How beautiful it is to do nothing, and to rest afterward."

[Spanish Proverb]

Ius luxuriae publice datum est

(The right to looseness has been officially given)

"Everyone carries a part of society on his shoulders," wrote Ludwig von Mises, "no one is relieved of his share of responsibility by others. And no one can find a safe way for himself if society is sweeping towards destruction. Therefore everyone, in his own interest, must thrust himself vigorously into the intellectual battle."

Apparently, the crossword puzzle that disappeared from the blog, came back.


Friday, March 27, 2009

What's in a Name?

There was a woman I came across on the internet some years ago who had a pet peeve. She didn't like that people from the United States of America were referred to as, well, Americans. She seemed to think it was arrogant and that it somehow insulted other people who live on the two continents. I thought she was being silly. I still do.

I recently had occasion to recall my conversations with her about the subject during an exchane with Argentum of Nether Regions of Earth (I and II) on his Tomas Arcanum blog (see the blog roll on the right side of this blog). It seems it bothered him a bit also. I cannot understand why. What difference does it make what someone identifies himself as?

In any case, it does seem to bother a number of people that we, US citizens, call ourselves "Americans" and I thought it might be interesting to explore the subject.

I don't believe we were the first to think of ourselves as "Americans". We thought of ourselves as members of whatever colony we lived in; Virginian, Georgian, Carolinian, etc. Or we identified by region; New Englander, for example. We might even reduce our identity to city; Bostonian, New Yorker, Philadelphian. It was likely those in England who started calling us "Americans" after we freed ourselves from King George. And then the French likely did also. Much later, during World War I, we were known as "Yanks". An affectation that was not exactly affectionate most of the time. That nickname sprang from a song popular during the American Revolution.



Yankee Doodle went to town
riding on a pony.
Stuck a feather in his hat
and called it "macaroni."

Yankee Doodle went to town,
Yankee Doodle dandy.
yadda, yadda, yadda.

Well, that's how it is sung today. There were some different lyrics back in the mid 1700s. Some of them weren't all that nice since they were made up by the British.

In any event, that song was probably where the term "Yankee" came from and it normally referred to a person from the northeastern colonies (Massachusetts, Connecticut, Maine, etc).

I suppose it became a common name for those of us living south of Canada and north and east of the Spanish and French colonies because there was no other commonality available. We were a mix of various European ethnic groups so we had no common country beyond England. Most of our industry and commerce came out of New England so the nickname seemed appropriate, I suppose.

Now, as we moved out into the world, across the seas, people might have asked where we were from. We'd likely have said "the Americas" and it would be easy for those folks to see us as "Americans" because of that. Not so in South America, I suppose, but they call us "Norte Americanos" (North Americans) anyway. Or "Yanquis" (Yankees). It's odd to me that Mexicans often call us the former since they are also in North America. In fact, anyone living north of the Isthmus of Panama would be in North America. Contrary to popular belief, there is no Central America. That is a region. To be honest, there is no separate North America or South America. It is one large continent separated by a man made canal.

I really think anyone complaining about our usurping the name "Americans" is making much a do about nothing. If anyone not a citizen of the US but living on this continent wishes to call himself "American", I have no problem with it. He might confuse some people who have accepted the term as meaning citizens of the US but that would be his (and their) problem.

After all, what should we call ourselves? "United Statesians?" How about "USians?" Nah, the latter would sound too much like "Russians".

We are routinely called a lot of names and "American" no longer has a favorable connotation, if it ever did. Why worry about such things anyway? As long as I don't call you something you don't want to be called, what do you care what I call myself?


[913/914]

8 comments:

Argentum Vulgaris said...

Well said Douglas, my comment was as much tongue-in-cheek as anything, although it stems from a point that I have pondered in the past, to say it bothers me or that I was complaining, rather than making an observation is a bit strong, especially as the topic in hand was also had an originally humorous slant, that about numismatists.

Good explanation of yankee, knew the song never put two and two together.

I agree about the division of the American continent into north and south. Never realised the isthmus of Panama was the dividing line. Many people do consider central America to be anything south of the US and north of Colombia. Then again, you could divide the continent at the equator, which would pose problems for those living in Quito. "Just going to pop across to north America for the shopping" when in fact they will cross the street.

Your mention of being Virginian, etc is the same even for me. I come from Christchurch, but I am also a Cantabrian, because my city is in the province of Canterbury, but I am still a New Zealander, I don't consider myself an Oceanian which seems to be the nearest we have to a continent unless you consider that Australia is our "continent", god forbid that I be called an Australian, a fate worse than being called stupid. As you can see, we love our Australian neighbours, in much the same light as they love us. They say we do to sheep, what in fact we know they do. It's a love /hate thing.

AV

hmmmm, no verification word. I'll try this...

Ah, it did second time round. But i copied in case. LOL

Douglas said...

AV - Yes, I suppose you could say I overstated your concern. I was using your bringing it up as representative of concern, though. To be fair, the most vocal (and angry) person was that woman I mentioned... and she is a US citizen. As for the dividing line between North and South America, there does not seem to be an official one. Some maps stop at the southern end of Panama, some at Costa Rica's northern border, some at Panama's northern border, and so on. I picked the Isthmus because it is ostensibly the narrowest point between the two large bodies. In truth, as I said, it is one long continent. But, then, there really is no actual divide between Europe and Asia, either.
Names are useful, they define our friends and our enemies. they can be amusing or derogatory. It's all in the connotation of the moment.

Argentum Vulgaris said...

Like Americans are tarred as Yankees, Brits as Poms, French as frogs and NZers as Kiwis...

Nor between NZ and Australia, we affectionately refer to the Tasman Sea as "The ditch".

AV

Michael said...

What am I?

Filipino-Chinese. Hongkonger. Asian. I find it interesting how I am referred to as a Chinese person, when Hongkonger culture is really different from, let's say, the community in Shanghai or Beijing. But, generalize all you want, you don't know me...

Ah, and they forget I'm half-Filipino, just because I'm not obviously Filipino (dark-skinned).

I don't like being called Chinese for the above reasons. It's too general. Hopefully, I'll live in English-medium arenas enough to be called International.

Michael.

Douglas said...

Michael - Human beings will always try to assign an identity to other humans. The first assignment will almost always be by appearance. Polite people will keep that first assignment to themselves until they can learn more. But it is human nature to categorize people. You can only be offended if you allow yourself to be. It is their ignorance (in the benign sense mostly), not yours.

Argentum Vulgaris said...

Like Americans are tarred as Yankees, Brits as Poms, French as frogs and NZers as Kiwis...

Nor between NZ and Australia, we affectionately refer to the Tasman Sea as "The ditch".

AV

Douglas said...

AV - Yes, I suppose you could say I overstated your concern. I was using your bringing it up as representative of concern, though. To be fair, the most vocal (and angry) person was that woman I mentioned... and she is a US citizen. As for the dividing line between North and South America, there does not seem to be an official one. Some maps stop at the southern end of Panama, some at Costa Rica's northern border, some at Panama's northern border, and so on. I picked the Isthmus because it is ostensibly the narrowest point between the two large bodies. In truth, as I said, it is one long continent. But, then, there really is no actual divide between Europe and Asia, either.
Names are useful, they define our friends and our enemies. they can be amusing or derogatory. It's all in the connotation of the moment.

Argentum Vulgaris said...

Well said Douglas, my comment was as much tongue-in-cheek as anything, although it stems from a point that I have pondered in the past, to say it bothers me or that I was complaining, rather than making an observation is a bit strong, especially as the topic in hand was also had an originally humorous slant, that about numismatists.

Good explanation of yankee, knew the song never put two and two together.

I agree about the division of the American continent into north and south. Never realised the isthmus of Panama was the dividing line. Many people do consider central America to be anything south of the US and north of Colombia. Then again, you could divide the continent at the equator, which would pose problems for those living in Quito. "Just going to pop across to north America for the shopping" when in fact they will cross the street.

Your mention of being Virginian, etc is the same even for me. I come from Christchurch, but I am also a Cantabrian, because my city is in the province of Canterbury, but I am still a New Zealander, I don't consider myself an Oceanian which seems to be the nearest we have to a continent unless you consider that Australia is our "continent", god forbid that I be called an Australian, a fate worse than being called stupid. As you can see, we love our Australian neighbours, in much the same light as they love us. They say we do to sheep, what in fact we know they do. It's a love /hate thing.

AV

hmmmm, no verification word. I'll try this...

Ah, it did second time round. But i copied in case. LOL