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

Shapiro, Fred fred.shapiro at YALE.EDU
Wed Jan 2 20:37:03 UTC 2013

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

The American Dialect Society -

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