6.14.2006

the States

When I was in England a long time ago (it seems), I noticed Brits kept saying "The States" to refer to the U.S., as in, "When I was in The States, I went to New York" or "People in The States like hot dogs" or whatever. All right, so British people, at least, like to say The States instead of America or the U.S. or the United States. Fine.

But it sounds weird when an American says "The States." It's as if they're trying to sound European, like, "I'm too sophisticated to say America or the US--I live in The States, in The States we jog, there are many people in The States." As if they used to say "America" or whatever, and then they went to Europe and heard people say "The States" and then thought, "Oh my, I'm so provincial--I better say The States from now on. I don't want to be like the other hick Americans." So now they say The States, and they're proud that they've become more worldly.

If they were to go to Japan, they'd hear アメリカ [Amerika] even though the "official" name is 米国 [beikoku]. I've gotten so used to hearing アメリカ [Amerika] from Japanese people that I started using that word myself. But then I met bitter Latin Americans who said that the U.S. isn't America, but the United States. I hope they wouldn't have a heart attack in Japan if they were to hear "America" everywhere.

So now I say "the U.S." to avoid offending or pissing off anyone. Except when I'm speaking Japanese. But I have to make sure we're alone.

20 comments:

Mad Minerva said...

Ah yes, that's what I've heard from people from or visiting Latin America -- especially South America. I've heard mainly from Argentina -- that folks insist that they are "Americans" too and that you should say "United States" if you mean the U.S. But then again, even in that part of the world, Argentina has a reputation for being rather...er, smug and self-satisfied.

Anyway, in Taiwan everyone I know calls America the Taiwanese word for it, which translates as "the beautiful country." Mandarin-speakers also call it "Meiguo," which translates as the same thing. Nobody I know calls it any phonetic version of "America."

But you're also right about the British use of "the States." Immigrants to the UK use this term too. Last time I was in London, various people I interacted with (vendors, clerks, etc.) who were clearly of immigrant descent or were immigrants themselves (the accents give it away), asked me, "Are you from the States? Are you from the States?" One told me wistfully as he sold me fish and chips, "One day I would like to go see the States. New York!"

But it seems anywhere inthe world I go, the phrases "I am an American" or "Are you [an] American?" are perfectly understood by everyone to mean "I am from the United States."

(As an aside, in Taiwan among my parents' friends, they use the term "American" to mean anyone who is white and from abroad. The person could be British, Australian, etc, but it doesn't matter. My aunties, if they see such a person out in the markets or streets, will say to each other, "Look, an American!" It is almost always said with pleasure and curiosity.)

mj said...

Yeah--I know about "Meiguo" from the little Chinese I've studied. Japanese has a script that "Japaneseifies" foreign words, so America is "Amedika" in Japanese, which is why I also posted the word in Katakana (the script used for foreign words).

I can understand why immigrants to the UK would say "The States"--that's the English they're learning. But it's still weird when Americans say it, unless they grew up there or have lived there for a while. But when Americans use it after being there a week or whatever, it makes me wonder.

I'm sure that "white foreigner as American" perception in Taiwan makes Europeans even more happy about the U.S.'s "dominance." ;)

Blog Intruder said...

I used to call the U.S. "the U.S." nut recently I found that I had been saying "the states". It just kinda slips out of your mouth involuntarily sometimes on account of foreign influence.

Jon Konrath said...

I call it "the center of the universe" to make sure I piss everyone off.

mj said...

I was going to say jokingly: "There is no center--the U.S. *is* the universe" but people would get angry and offended by that joke.

mj said...

Sure, BI: your utterance of "The States" isn't involutary but a calculated effort to sound sophisticated. ;) Admit it. ;)

Seriously, we're speaking in a global scene now--we're gonna pick up each other's phrases.

Arrogant Polyglot said...

Us humble Canadians always say 'the States'. The 'United States' is too wordy (and perhaps a bit pompous?). 'America' just isn't a Canadian thing to say.

If Americans believe they are the center of the universe, I assure you that Canadians prefer to think of them as the centre of the universe.

mj said...

Yeah, it would be weird for Canadians to say America, especially since they're Euro-wannabes. ;)

But the important thing is that Canada is a separate country, so they can say States. It's just weird when Americans say it.

Mad Minerva said...

Center of the universe! If you want some serious old-school ethnocentrism, just look at the Mandarin CHinese word for the name of the country itself: China = Zhongguo, which means "Middle Kingdom/Country/Nation" which means literally "center of the universe."

mj said...

Yeah, Japanese uses similar characters: Chu for center, Koku for country. But I didn't think it implied "center of the universe" but rather center of Asia or that area.

mj said...

Sorry--I meant to explain that the Japanese word for China is "Chugoku" which means "center country".

a guy in pajamas said...

Actually, I don't know why, but I often say 'the States.' I did live abroad for seven years, but I was never conscious of changing over, and it doesn't sound strange at all to me.

Interestingly, in Japanese, the characters for 'US' mean 'rice country.' Whereas in Korea, the characters are 'beautiful country' (what I know as 'bi/mi/utsukushii' + 'kuni/koku' in Japanese).

And now I find out Taiwan also uses the characters for 'beautiful country.' I wonder why the difference?

mj said...

I'm surprised you say "The States" because you lived in Japan, where they don't say that, and you're also not a wannabe. Or maybe you say that because you hung out with a bunch of expat snobs who successfully transformed you from commoner American to International Snubber.

Japan says "rice country" because they know who butters their bread. :)

a guy in pajamas said...

I've thought about this and decided I blame it all on watching many episodes of SCTV as a child. I also sometimes end sentences with 'eh?', just like Bob & Doug McKenzie? (Blame Canada! :-) ) And, of course, Monty Python, Dr. Who, etc.

Then again, in Japan I hung out with a lot of Aussies, Kiwis, Brits, & Canucks, so maybe I picked it up from them, eh?

Or maybe I've just become an International Snubber, though I think plain ol' confused is more likely.

'Rice country' because they know who butters their bread? Egads! :-D

mj said...

Yeah, sure--you're just a Red-Stater who wanted to be more 'phistocated. ;)

a guy in pajamas said...

:-D

amida said...

I used to say "the US," which felt the most natural to me, but many people didn't know what I was talking about.

Technically speaking, the Chinese "Meiguo" (which is not Taiwanese but Mandarin) is a phonetic version of "America," just a shortened one. The whole thing is something like "A1mei3li4jia1." There is something else in Japanese that gets "Beikoku" ("rice country"). AFAIK, Taiwanese also uses "rice country."

mj said...

You mean people in Taiwan didn't know what the US was?

What does AFAIK mean?

amida said...

Some people I met didn't know that "the US" meant (what they would call) "America" so I stopped saying it. The terms "USA," "the States," and "America" are much more generally known around the world.
AFAIK=As far as I know... sorry for the lazy acronym ;)

mj said...

Hey, I'll be using AFAIK soon enough.