Antedating of "United States" and "United States of America"

Ben Zimmer bgzimmer at GMAIL.COM
Wed Sep 25 02:35:39 UTC 2013

Barry Popik brought the latest CSM article to the attention of some us
(including Fred) off-list last July. The article refers to "a letter
... discovered this past Memorial Day," but one may wonder, discovered
by whom? See:

Curtis Putnam Nettels, _George Washington and American Independence_
(1976), p. 232
On January 2, Washington's amanuensis, Stephen Moylan, proposed that
he be sent to Spain "with full and ample powers from the United States
of America." This highly important letter to Joseph Reed was
undoubtedly intended to be passed around among members of Congress. It
has a special meaning because, among the surviving records of the
time, it is the earliest paper in which appears the phrase: "The
United States of America."

On Tue, Sep 24, 2013 at 10:11 PM, Shapiro, Fred wrote:
> In the posting below I pointed out that the Christian Science Monitor reported an
> antedating of the term "United States of America" back to April 1776.  Now I see
> that the CSM subsequently reported a further antedating of "United States of
> America" back to a 2 January 1776 letter by an aide to George Washington:
> Note that the provenance of this letter, discovered by the same person who
> made the earlier discovery, is not described at all.
> ________________________________________
> From: American Dialect Society [ADS-L at LISTSERV.UGA.EDU] on behalf of Shapiro, Fred [fred.shapiro at YALE.EDU]
> Sent: Wednesday, January 02, 2013 3:37 PM
> Subject: Antedating of "United States" and "United States of America"
> I'm not sure whether the entry for "United States" will survive the revision of the
> OED, since I believe geographical names are now considered out of scope by
> OED.  In any case, the geographical names "United States" and "United States
> of America" are clearly important.  OED has 1776, I think the fall of 1776, as their
> earliest citation for "United States" (missing a minor document published on July
>  4 of that year), and 1778 as their earliest citation for "United States of America."
> William Safire, in his "On Language" column of March 29, 1998, discussed a
> number of June 1776 usages of "United States of America."  Now the Christian
> Science Monitor reports the discovery of an April 1776 usage of that term:
> I would suggest that the correctness of this document's dating be studied before
> it is accepted as an antedating.
> Fred Shapiro

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