Canadians, Mexicans, and Usonians

By Maeve Maddox

I have the good fortune to live within a thirty-minute drive of Crystal Bridges, one of the world’s few major art museums to specialize in American art.

Or should I say, “Usonian art”?

Usonian is a new word to me. It does not appear in either the OED or M-W. I read it for the first time in a news story announcing the acquisition of a Usonian house that is being dismantled in New Jersey to be transported and reassembled on the 120-acre grounds of Crystal Bridges.

American/Usonian architect Frank Lloyd Wright used the word to refer to his vision for New World architecture that would be free of previous architectural conventions.

Wright’s first use of the word was in 1927:

But why this term “America” has become representative as the name of these United States at home and abroad is past recall. Samuel Butler fitted us with a good name. He called us Usonians, and our Nation of combined States, Usonia.

Wright misattributed the term Usonian to Samuel Butler. In fact, the word’s first appearance was in 1903, in the writings of James Duff Law. He proposed the term as an adjective to describe the residents of the United States:

”We of the United States, in justice to Canadians and Mexicans, have no right to use the title ‘Americans’ when referring to matters pertaining exclusively to ourselves.”

L.L. Zamenhof, the creator of Esperanto, had similar ideas. The Esperanto word for the United States–first used in a speech at the 1910 World Congress of Esperanto in Washington, D.C., is Usono; the Esperanto word for an inhabitant of the U.S. is Usonano, and the adjective is usona.

Wright’s “Usonian homes” were designed to be affordable to middle-income families; they were small, single-story dwellings without a garage or much storage. Wright coined the word carport to describe the covered unenclosed space in which to park the family car.

Jacobs House, thought to have been the first of about sixty Usonian homes designed by Wright, was built in Madison, Wisconsin in 1937. The buyer, Herbert Jacobs, challenged Wright to design and build a home for $5,000. Using recycled bricks, Wright kept construction costs to $5,500.

Note: In 1937, the average annual wage in the U.S. was $1,788; the average cost of a new house, $4,100; the average price of a new car, $760, and annual tuition at Harvard University, $420.

Perhaps speakers in the United States who wish to avoid offending the other inhabitants of North and South America by using the word American to refer to themselves alone could soothe their consciences by adopting the word Usonian.

To try it out, I played around with some movie titles:

A Usonian Werewolf in London
Captain Usonia
Usonian Beauty
Usonian Graffiti
Usonian Pie
Usonian Psycho
Usonian Reunion
Usonian Hustle

The change would take some getting used to. But then, since so many people are complaining nowadays that the country is not what it once was, maybe it’s time to adopt a new demonym.

Note: Demonym is another word that hasn’t made it into the OED or M-W yet. From the Greek word for “populace,” a demonym is the name applied to a person according to country of origin. For example, French, Latvian, Canadian.

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19 Responses to “Canadians, Mexicans, and Usonians”

  • John

    Anyway, for me, Usonia and Usonian sound terrible.

  • Nancy

    I once had a Canadian man try to edit my work because he felt the term “American” was offensive to Canadians. I wrote back and told him that the name of our country was “The United States of America.” It wouldn’t work well to call ourselves “Unitedstatesians,” so “Americans” was a better and justifiable alternative.

    “Usonian” is an even more dreadful alternative. Maybe the best route is to educate people and encourage them to not get so torqued off about such things . . .

  • Stephane

    Shouldn’t it be “Usanian”?

    Or maybe our north and south continents should become North and South Vespuccia instead and the USA will stay “America.”

  • Curtis

    Sure, why not?

    It beats being called “The Great Satan.”

  • Julie R Butler

    The correct term in Latin America – the “other” America – is “estadounidense,” which translates into “United Statesian.” That seems to be a better option, to me.

  • Annette

    I love this post. I know it’s a pipe dream and would never catch on, but the idea that the people of the United States could have demonym that is truly unique only to them would be wonderful. As a Canadian, I have always found it kind of annoying not to be able to call myself an American, even though I live in North America. 🙂

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=29g57XTYgLE

  • Cristina

    Maybe if estadounidenses, états-uniens, statunitensi (because there is such a term to refer to “Americans” in other languages) travelled abroad (to, let’s say, the rest of the continent which is called “America” or learned another language to broaden their culture), they would see how useful this change would be.
    There is a whole world outside your borders, you know?

  • Nelida K.

    Supporting @Julie Butler’s comment, I would add that estadounidense is the “politically correct” way of referring to Americans in most Latin American countries in general, and in my neck-of-the-woods in particular. Plus, it is only fair, since Canadians, Mexicans, us Uruguayans et al, are all living in the Americas and we are therefore, also Americans (of the South, Center or North, but still).

    The above notwithstanding, I have to admit that Usonian needs a lot of getting used to… it does not sound too attractive. What about “Youesser” (the pronunciation of “U.S.-er” and to avoid the connotation of “user” which is bound to crop up). It would even allow for a gender-marker: “Youesserin”. I know, it sounds wacko, but not a lot more than “Usonian”, LOL.

  • CJ Flynn

    I’ve used USians to good effect with an international readership. For example; Amazing how those USians get torqued-off by anyone who doesn’t acknowledge their unique right to total validation.

  • Julian Bradfield

    On my side of the Atlantic, we already say “Usanian” (with a, not o) from time to time. A quick Google shows we’re not alone. So why resurrect a dead variant?

  • John

    @ Nelida K. Youesser/Youesserin? Really? it might make someone sound as if he is from a Middle East countries 🙂

  • John

    hmm I meant “country”

  • Nelida K.

    @John: I did say that it sounded wacko, and was just having a bit of end-of-a-long-working-day fun…and I do see your point. :=)

  • Rufo

    I have had this conversation with many citizens from the USA. I use the word USAmerican (Yoo-ehs-American). That way, I use the “whole” name of the country, I am politically correct and they do not complain about making a huge switch of the word theyve been using for years.

  • Amazing Blair

    I think the proposed term is silly. As far as I know, the USA is the only Western hemisphere nation with the word “America” in any form as its name. (Let me know if that’s wrong.)

    United States of AMERICA yields “American”;
    Dominion of CANADA yields “Canadian”,
    Republica de MEXICO, well, you get the picture.

    In Spanish, by the way, there is a term “norteamericano” to refer to anyone from North America. But when they say “americano”, it unambiguously refers to a citizen of the United States.

  • venqax

    @Amazing Blair: From your keyboard to the Divine Ear. Every time this bit of petty ridiculousness comes up I don’t know whether to laugh or to *explete*. The term American has been used for residents of America—which is also what the country is generally called—for centuries now. The continent, as if it matters, is NORTH America. And NORTH America is exactly what we say when we are referencing the continent rather than the country. Does South Africa have this problem? Do the Namibians and Swazis and Mozambicans and Tswana get hot and bothered because they are from south Africa, too? Somehow I bet they have more pressing things to worry about. How about the Central African Republic? Do its neighbors in Cameroon or Uganda demand correction of that gross injustice? Did you know that the natives of the United Arab Emirates are called Emiris or Emiriati, even though Qatar, Kuwait, and Bahrain are emirates, too? Since when did Canadians and Mexicans itch to call themselves Americans, anyway? The Canadians I know wear those little maple leaf tags all over the world precisely so they won’t be confused with those evil, despised Americans.

  • Rachel

    I don’t understand why people get so up-in-arms about this (then again, I am an American, so perhaps I don’t have a total perspective on this). In the English language, it is simply difficult to render a name for people who reside in the United States of America. If other people have easier ways to say it in their language, more power to them–that’s their decision. Even if the Canadians want to call us something else, I’m okay with that. But please, allow us the freedom to hearken back to our tradition of calling ourselves “Americans”. Personally, I don’t mean anything by it. I’m not trying to make you say that we’re the best any more than someone who says, “Happy Hanukkah” or “Merry Christmas” is trying to make you celebrate that particular holiday.

  • Alex

    People need to understand that “America” was coined first in 1507 after Amerigo Vespucci by the German cartographer Martin Waldseemüller when a map was published with the word “America” on South America. Yes, originally, America is South America exclusively.

    So, it is wrong to assume in any possible way that “America” has always represented the USA. No, that is not correct. The first Americans are (South) American, not North Americans. North America became part of America just by mere extention, but not by origin.

    “United Statesian” seems to work well and many dictionaries of the Enlgish language already accept and promote the term.

  • L’crum

    Usanian sounds much better thah “Usonian”. United Statesian also has its power.

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