When did we first use the term "USA" ?

I came to the boards tonight for this question, and saw the similar When and why to say US or USA.

FREAKY WEIRD how similar that question is, and to be top of the board too.

But my question is, hopefully, easier.

How old is the shorthand usage of “USA” to mean the landmass between Canada and Mexico, et al? When did “U.S.A” first see print?

According to the Google Ngram viewer, it started around 1860 (probably having something to do with the Civil War), and really caught on in the 1940s.

The Oxford English Dictionary has a cite for “US” from 1834. It also notes the “USA” is a variant on “US”, but it doesn’t record cites for “USA” independently. The implication is that the 1834 cite suggests that the “US” abbreviation appeared first, with “USA” coming along some time later, but I don’t know how much later.


I’ve heard about this Ngram viewer once or twice. Completely forgot about it. This is amazing. Not sure I could have found it on my own (or know to go look for it.)

lol I love you.
Great minds think alike, etc.

It might have something to do with the fact that the Americas&America has become less and less associated with only the US and more with the whole continent.

What were the colonies called before they became the United States of America? I mean in daily speech.

Oddly, the country was called the United States of America even during the Articles of Confederation. Prior to September 1776 the term “United Colonies” was used.

Oh, I thought we were talking about Usa, Japan.

Not quite.

I think you can find book cites from the 1830s-1840s using U.S.A. to mean the country. I’ll try to post them later tonight–after Cleveland beats Golden State. :stuck_out_tongue:

Honestly its not great for tracking past 1900. Whatever meta-data they use to get the dates of texts seems to get wildly innaccurate for stuff before the the 20th century.

(granted, I haven’t played with it in a year or two, maybe its improved).

Here’s a button saying “USA” from the Revolutionary War.


If real, the best it could mean is “United States Army.” I doubt it being from the time period.

I’m assuming Really Not All That Bright was referring to this:

That doesn’t mean that the term had never been used previously. But pedantically, the correct date of formal adoption is Sept. 9, 1776.

The United States Army wasn’t established under that name until 1784. Prior to that you had the “Continental Army”. So if this button is from the Revolutionary Wars, USA is unlikely to stand for “United States Army”.

According to this book that I found through Google Books the Continental Army did use both “US” and “USA”, the latter in particular on buttons.

My opinion is the button is much later than the late 1700s. Maybe a late 1800s concoction.

“USA” might stand for United States Army, and I don’t know for sure if that button I linked to is authentic, but if it’s not, it’s a reproduction of an authentic button. They were called “Intertwined USA buttons”, and they appeared on Continental Army officer uniforms from 1777-83. Here’s a picture of another one from the website of the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation:


From William Emerson’s "Encyclopedia of United States Army Insignia and Uniforms:

It is not my intention here to debate the origins of the abbreviations “US” or “USA”, but a short history of the army’s use of the letters “US” is instructive. During the American Revolution the Continental Army impressed the letters “US” on gun locks, cannon tubes, files and other pieces of ordinance and and equipment to identify them as property of the United States. On the only “insignia” of the period, soldiers’ solid pewter buttons, there were three raised and intertwined letters “USA”. Some officers wore thin metal button shells, crimped over bone or wood disks, bearing raised and intertwined letters “USA” with the S considerably larger.

Well, according to the book that I linked to, and which Captain Amazing also quotes, the button design switched from a “USA” mongram to a “US” monogram in 1808. So most likely the button concerned is either a pre-1808 button or a later reproduction of a pre-1808 button.

In any event, regardless of the provenance of that particular button, the book seems to be authority for the fact that the abbreviation “USA” was in use from at least 1776. And while some have suggested that it stood for “US Army”, the facts are that the institution concerned was call the Continental Army at the time, and that the official name of the Union was “United States of America” from 1776 onwards. So the mongram is, on the whole, more likely to have stood for “United States of America”.

Which is interesting, because earliest known uses of the phrase “united States of America” (sic) are all from 1776. It went from nowhere to the official name in very short order.

Well, this is hardly very surprising. Until you conceive of the new political entity, you don’t need a name for it. Until the colonies decided that they weren’t going to be colonies any more, they were just “the colonies” (or “the American colonies”, if disambiguation was needed).

Why would we expect the term “United States of America” to be in circulation before the project to establish the United States of America was actively under way? What could such the term have referred to, much before 1776?

I think the point is that the new term was adopted very quickly after the Declaration of Independence, not that it was possible for it to have existed before that.