American (word)

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, American generally refers to persons or things related to the United States of America; among native English speakers this usage is almost universal, with any other use of the term requiring specification. However, this usage is seen by some as a semantic "misappropriation" by those who argue that "American" should be widened in English to also include people or things from anywhere in the American continents. The word can be used as either an adjective or a noun (viz. a demonym). In adjectival use, it means "of or relating to the United States"; for example, "Elvis Presley was an American singer" or "the man prefers American English". In its noun form, the word generally means a resident or citizen of the US, or occasionally someone whose ethnic identity is simply "American". The noun is rarely used in 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". Compound constructions such as "African Americans" likewise refer exclusively to people in or from the United States of America, as does the prefix "Americo-". For instance, the Americo-Liberians and their language Merico derive their name from the fact that they are descended from African American settlers, i.e. former slaves in the United States of America.


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