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Map of America by Jonghe, c. 1770.
Map of America by Jonghe, c. 1770.

The Americas refers to the american continent, the collectivity of North America, Central America and the Caribbean, and South America.

The term is a relatively recent and less ambiguous alternative to the name America, which may refer to either the whole american continent or the United States of America. The former usage is now often considered archaic in English, but still in use in most other languages, in which the Americas is often considered to form a single continent, and therefore called America (singular).


Objections to US English usage

The use of the term America for the United States of America in English and colloquially in other languages is often considered politically incorrect or an expression of cultural imperialism. It is also illogical, as it would place Central and South America outside America, although the context usually makes clear which meaning of 'America' is intended.

Geographical Location and Status

America is the continent located to the east of the Pacific Ocean and the west of the Atlantic Ocean, and are generally divided into North America, South America, and Central America. The term also usually includes the Caribbean, the islands in and around the Caribbean Sea, and Greenland, though not Iceland, for cultural and historical reasons. The isthmus of Central America is usually considered geographically part of North America. America is often also described as the Western Hemisphere or, during the colonial era, as the New World.

The classification of America as a single continent vs multiple continents is debated. Traditionally in English-speaking countries, North and South America are considered two continents, reflected by the use of the plural name the Americas, with the isthmus of Central America being part of North America. In many other countries, they are considered a single continent, usually divided into the three parts North, Central and South America. So (an equivalent of) the singular America is used in several languages, though it should be noted that even those who consider the Americas to be two continents may still use the singular to refer to the two collectively. The singular America is also found in English in reference to the pre-Columbian or early Columbian era, such as in the common phrase "Christopher Columbus discovered America". The single-entity concept also appears thematically. For example, the five rings of the Olympic flag represent the five parts of the world, with a single ring representing all of the Americas. Likewise, Pan-American refers to the Americas as a whole.

Peoples of America

CIA map of the Americas (as it is now incorrectly called in English)
CIA map of the Americas (as it is now incorrectly called in English)


Main article: Use of the word American

Most of the people living in the Americas refer to themselves as American. Meanwhile, in most of the English-speaking world, this will only refer to a citizen of the United States of America.


The American population is made up of the descendents of three large ethnic groups and their combinations: the native inhabitants of the continent, being "Indians" (or "Native Americans" or "Amerindians"), Eskimos, and Aleuts; Europeans (of mainly Spanish, British, Irish, Portuguese, French, Italian, German and Dutch, origin); and black Africans. There are also more recent immigrants, such as from the Balkan, Central Europe and Central and Eastern Asia.

The majority of the American people live in Latin America. Most of Latin America is Spanish-speaking, with Portuguese-speaking Brazil as the major exception. Canada and the United States are linguistically, culturally and economically quite different from Latin America, with the whites being more predominantly of North European ancestry. As part of the more prosperous northern world, the United States especially has long overshadowed and attempted to manipulate southern Latin America, most notably during the Cold War.


Various languages, both European and native, are spoken in America.



Most of the non-native languages have, to different degrees, evolved differently from the mother country, but are usually still mutually intelligible. Some have combined though, which has even resulted in completely new languages, such as Papiamentu, which is a combination of Portuguese, Spanish, Dutch (representing the respective colonisers), native Arawak, various African languages and, more recently, English. Because of immigration, there are many communities where other languages are spoken from all parts of the world, especially in the United States and Canada, two important destinations for immigrants.

Naming of America

Map of the American mainland
Map of the American mainland

The earliest known use of the name America for the continents of the Americas dates from 1507. It appears on a globe and a large map created by the German cartographer Martin Waldseemüller in Saint-Dié-des-Vosges. An accompanying book, Cosmographiae Introductio, explains that the name was derived from the Latinized version of the explorer Amerigo Vespucci's name, Americus Vespucius, in its feminine form, America, as the other continents all have Latin feminine names. Christopher Columbus, who had first brought the continents' existence to the attention of Renaissance era voyagers, had died in 1506 (believing, to the end, that he'd discovered and conquered part of India) and could not protest Waldseemüller's decision.

A few alternative theories regarding the continents' naming have been proposed, but none of them have any widespread acceptance. One alternative first proposed by a Bristol antiquary and naturalist, Alfred Hudd, was that America is derived from Richard Amerike, a merchant from Bristol, who is believed to have financed John Cabot's voyage of discovery from England to Newfoundland in 1497. Supposedly, Bristol fishermen had been visiting the coast of North America for at least a century before Columbus' voyage and Waldseemüller's maps are alleged to incorporate information from the early British journeys to North America. The theory holds that a variant of Amerike's name appeared on an early British map (of which however no copies survive) and that this was the true inspiration for Waldseemüller.

Another theory, first advanced by Jules Marcou in 1875 and later recounted by novelist Jan Carew, is that the name America derives from the district of Amerrique in Nicaragua. The gold-rich district of Amerrique was purportedly visited by both Vespucci and Columbus, for whom the name became synonymous with gold. According to Marcou, Vespucci later applied the name to the New World, and even changed the spelling of his own name from Alberigo to Amerigo to reflect the importance of the discovery.

Vespucci's role in the naming issue, like his exploratory activity, is unclear. Some sources say that he was unaware of the widespread use of his name to refer to the new landmass. Others hold that he promulgated a story that he had made a secret voyage westward and sighted land in 1491, a year before Columbus. If he did indeed make such claims, they backfired, and only served to prolong the ongoing debate on whether the "Indies" were really a new land, or just an extension of Asia.

See also

External links

Continents and regions of the World







North America




South America
Geological supercontinents :
Gondwana • Laurasia • Pangea • Rodinia
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