(The) United States (of whatever)

Re a post by Amando de Miguel in his interesting, if fairly Pleistocene, language column for Libertad Digital, I’ve compiled a little table of hits over time from Mark Davies’ corpus for several Spanish versions of the Great Satan (no hits in there for el Gran Satanás unfortunately). I’ve omitted

  • USA = América because I’m interested in whether the article los is plonked in front and whether that tells us anything about changing attitudes to the USA.
  • USA = estados/EEUU/EE.UU because the latter two don’t appear in the corpus before 1900, and I believe the former also to be a C20th innovations (don’t let me stop you combing through the results, tho).

Stats are case- and diacritic-insensitive (América is sometimes written without the acute, and Estados and Unidos are sometimes estados and unidos). Here are they:

century 18th 19th 20th
los Estados Unidos de Norteamérica 0 0 7
Estados Unidos de la América del Norte 0 1 0
Estados Unidos de la América 3 0 0
Estados Unidos de América 2 45 20
Estados Unidos 20 577 819
subtotal 25 623 846
[no article] Estados Unidos de Norteamérica 0 0 3
Estados Unidos de la América del Norte 0 0 1
Estados Unidos de la América 1 0 0
Estados Unidos de América 2 9 23
Estados Unidos 2 51 3805
subtotal 5 60 3828
grand total 30 683 4678
(Davies has Francisco Gregorio, Marqués de Valle Santoro writing Elementos de economía política con aplicación particular a España in the C17th. I think it was C18th rather than 19th & have reassigned stats thusly.)

I’m not sure why the definite article gets so thoroughly dropped in relative terms in the 20th century. The most plausible explanation I can imagine is that it has something to do with patriotic clamour against presumed American arrogance (“What do they mean, they’re THE United States?! What about Estados Unidos de México?!”) which resulted from the psychologically devastating defeat suffered by Spain in 1898 in the Caribbean and the Pacific, and which I believe to be an important underlying cause of much contemporary left- and right-wing anti-Americanism in the Spanish state, of which more another time.

(I haven’t noticed any instances in the corpus of the Estados Unidos de Hólanda. That’s interesting, because post-independence American writing frequently uses the phrase; The Nation tells us that:

in the correspondence of Franklin and of others, where “the States” are spoken of, it is often only by the context that one can tell whether the reference is to the United States of Holland or to the United States of America.


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