America: Misnomer of a Moniker

By Paul Yeager, author of Literally, the Best Language Book Ever

I don’t get it. Why are the terms United States and America used interchangeably?

The United States is part of America, which is why it’s called the United States of America! It is not America any more than France is Europe, Sudan is Africa, Chile is America, or Australia is Australia. Oh wait, scratch that last one.

America is split into two continents, North America and South America, and the two continents are divided into separate nations, one of which is called United States.

America and United States are not interchangeable.

I know. I know. I can almost hear the descriptivists out there, typing fervently on their keyboards:

Well, Paul Revere first referred to the United States as America in 1751, and famous author William Cullen Bryant often referred to the United States as America. Usage gained even more popularity in the 20th century. Therefore, its use is completely acceptable.

Yeah, yeah. It’s not always about usage. Sometimes, it’s about clarity, and it doesn’t make sense to refer to one nation on a continent (or, in this case, two continents) as the continent itself.

It makes me want to move to America, I mean Canada.

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