Although I majored in English at a state teacher’s college, I’m not a stickler for grammar. I do try to speak correctly, but working as a special education teacher has desensitized me to some common “swears” and I’ve learned to accept some populist student expressions, for example, “My bad.”
When, a month before the inauguration, I found myself writing an email to Barack Obama about his use of a popular and common expression, I surprised myself. Since President Obama did not reply and used the expression that troubles me in the inaugural address, I’m writing this piece because I do believe that United States citizens should clean up their vocabulary and I believe that our president is in the best position to lead the way.
I believe that when any of us refers to “Americans”, we should be using that collective noun to include Canadians, Mexicans, Brazilians, Panamanians and all dwellers of the North, Central and South Americas. Picture a young teenager in Mexico or Bolivia listening to President Barack Obama promise jobs for ten thousand Americans. Joyfully the teenager informs his parents of his hope for family employment. Sadly his parents explain to him that he is indeed chopped liver as far as the president of the US is concerned because that child is not included in the US president’s view of Americans.
I’m convinced that some years from now, be it five or fifty, educators will have to explain to young people that the US erred grievously in using the umbrella term “Americans” to include only US citizens. I am reminded of a passage in Huckleberry Finn where a character asks if any one were hurt in a boiler explosion. “No sir, just a nigger killed,” came the other character’s reply. Similarly, a union newspaper that represents college professors ran a banner headline, “Health care covered for all college teachers.” It took the adjunct representative’s hearty complaint that coverage was not extended to the non-regular or adjunct professors for these educated writers to realize that the headline was misleading or inappropriate.
Granted that the expression “My fellow US citizens,” does not have the same rhetorical ring as “My fellow Americans”, but “My fellow US citizens” has a much clearer ring, the ring of truth.
The misapplied term “Americans” reeks of a self-centered world-view and a distorted geographical syntax. Clear headed, inclusive and articulate, as President Obama is, he is uniquely in a position to influence popular usage. Since we know that Barack Obama wouldn’t promise a puppy for all children and mean only his own two daughters, I think he should avoid promising jobs for Americans when he means only citizens or residents of the United States of America.
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