Stupid Arguments for Pedantic People: America

American FlagThere are certain causes, certain arguments, that certain people hold very deeply, very truly.  Causes that every single other person on earth simply can’t bring themselves to care about.  It’s not that other people are ill-equipped or unable to understand the issue.  It’s specifically that the issue simply doesn’t have a single valid impact on… anything.

For whatever reason I seem to attract people that long – with a burning, blinding passion – to discuss these at length.

Several years ago while enjoying an after-work conversation over beverages, I said something along the lines of “Americans don’t like something or other.” It was something silly, innocuous and forgettable. However it sent one of my coworkers into an inexplicable lather. “I know plenty of Americans that like whatever!” she said, adding smugly, “I know plenty of Brazilians and Canadians that like whatever, they’re Americans too!”

What followed was a truly stupid argument. I took the world-weary position of “you know what I meant” and stuck with it. She countered with pompous, unrelated stories about how she spent a summer living in Spain which gave her insight into how isolationist and unworldly “people in the states” are.

The Argument (or, ‘Murica!)

Apparently the core issue here is a perceived jingoistic arrogance on the part of Americans (U.S. Americans?  United Staters? USers?). Using the term to specifically refer to citizens of the United States is seen as aggressively imperialistic and insulting to other sovereign nations who share these American continents.  As best, critics levy, the term is imprecise and ambiguous. In other words people from the United States are loud, brash, fat and myopic, as usual.

This has led to at least one ridiculous web site that, tellingly, defends it’s position via exactly one argument. That single argument is taken from Star Trek and is hilariously stupid. In short the argument is that “The United Federation of Planets” is called “The Federation” not “The Planets”. I hope you can see the irony (and the sadness) in demanding that we use “The States” and not “America” because of this.

Wikipedia spends several thousand words attempting to summarize the various views on the topic. While the academic applicability of Wikipedia may be debatable, it must be noted that it fails, even once, to invoke “Star Trek”.

The Response

Defenders, such as Slate author Chris Kirk, point to traditional usage dating back to long before the United States elevated itself to world power and the simplicity of the term compared to alternatives.  It could be added that there is already reasonable differentiation as:

  • “North American” means, “One from the continent of North America,” and
  • “South American” means. “One from the continent of South America,” allowing
  • “American” to mean, “One from the United States of America.”

This works well as there is little or no need to ever treat the two continents as a unit for purposes of citizenship. In Earth sciences or history they can simply be “The Americas” or even “The Western Hemisphere”. Of course crazy people on Yahoo Answers have other opinions on the matter.

The Reality

Like most pedantic arguments this one attempts to change something that causes no confusion with something significantly more cumbersome for the sole purpose of adding additional precision where none is needed. It’s primary purpose is to allow those that raise it to feel superior to us poor, sad, unenlightened slobs just propagating a fallacy out of pure, ignorant laziness.

To these people I humbly say: Life is messy. Love it.

Updated: February 24, 2014 — 9:00 pm

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