(I’ll tell you a little secret: many U.S. news organizations won’t call ruling despots as “dictators” until they die, because they don’t want their reporters to be denied visas to enter these totalitarian states.)
Which brings me to the mother of all contentious terms, which is not being questioned by virtually anybody in the United States, but has long generated a lot of resentment from Latin Americans and Canadians — the term “America.”
“America,’’ or “the Americas,’’ is the Western Hemisphere. When Columbus discovered the New World, his first stops were The Bahamas and Cuba, not Boston. In fact, the first known references to the term “America’’ referred to South America, in honor of explorer Americus Vespucius.
When I mentioned this to my friend Edward Wasserman, dean of the University of California-Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism, he laughed and recalled that his Spanish teacher in Argentina used to object even to his use of the term “norteamericano,’’ and urged him to call himself ’’estadounidense.”
“You are right, the term ’’American’’ has overtones of cultural arrogance,’’ Wasserman said. “We don’t even have a term for ‘estadounidense’ in English.”
My opinion: We should not move toward an overly politically correct journalistic lingo that ends up depriving most terms of much of their meaning (I still prefer “handyman” or “handywoman’’ to “handyperson.’’) But language defines the message, and language is an evolving phenomenon.
It was about time that the AP — where I worked for several years — made the change. I don’t think I will see the AP replacing “America’’ with “the United States,’’ or “USA,’’ in my lifetime, but I would be content if I see it at least moving from “gun control’’ to “gun violence’’ in the near future.