Fans of the USA, and other notes from the 'phile' files

The Monitor's language columnist looks into terms like Anglophile.

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A reader inquires: Is there a special term for fans of America and its people and culture – something analogous to Anglophile to refer to admirers of England (please pass the clotted cream) or Francophile for admirers of France?

The short answer: no, not really, just a certain amount of ad hockery. But it's sometimes interesting to note what isn't there in a language.

Some might point out that the ancient Romans didn't know the Americas, and so there isn't a Latin-derived combining form for them, on the model of "Anglo" or "Franco." But that seems like quibbling, since the two continents were named after an Italian, whose name in turn was derived from Latin.

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I've got to admit that I've always gotten a kick out these combining forms, in part because they can be very concise and work well in tight headline spaces. "Sino-US ties" can be a great way to refer to relations between China and the United States, for instance.

If you're going to form one of these compounds to refer to fans of Team USA, the question becomes how much of "America" you snip off before attaching the "phile." Amer is a nice concise combining form (Amerindian, Amerasian), but the "phile" ending fits better after a vowel. Some people would go with Americaphile, but that strikes me as too literal. My vote would be for something called Ameriphile.

Yankophile actually seems to have a little more traction out there in the blogosphere than these other terms, even though, except as a reference to the baseball team, Yanks sounds rooted in the first half of the 20th century. "Yanks" was the title of a 1979 movie starring, among others, Vanessa Redgrave and Richard Gere, about World War II romance between Yanks and Brits.

But a contributor to an online discussion of the "fan" issue a few years back offered this observation, which may explain if none of these terms is in your dictionary: "It may have something to do with the dominance of the mainstream American culture globally, so that to a certain unfortunate extent it's the default culture anyway. To be a francophile or a japanophile, you're differentiating yourself; it's like your little hobby to explore that particular culture. But American culture is right in front of you no matter what; it's not as much of a 'niche.' "

This ubiquity has not been wearing well of late, either.

By contrast, Europe, with all those nationalities packed in cheek by jowl, affords plenty of opportunity to study and admire – or not – other cultures and ways of living.

The fields of history and international relations are full of interesting connections and "special relationships" between peoples – the Scots and the French, for instance; or the Romanians and the French. Well, OK, maybe a lot of different peoples and the French. Wasn't it Thomas Jefferson who said that everyone has two countries, his own and France?

Then there are partnerships like the Germans and the Iranians, the Turks and the Israelis; and what do you make of the Japanese with their fascination with Prince Edward Island and Anne of Green Gables? Speaking of Canada, I can remember that when I was posted there, there always seemed to be a lot going on between the Canadians and the Norwegians – joint projects between two middle powers on the international stage.

What do you call those who are admirers of America and its culture? At the end of the day I'm not sure I care – as long as we don't get to the point where they are called a distinct minority.

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