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North America

Posted by Smokey Stover on February 27, 2010 at 21:43

In Reply to: North America posted by Brian from Shawnee on February 25, 2010 at 03:15:

: : : Anyone have any idea when the term "North America" was first used to describe the the landmass to which it refers today? Thanks very much!

: : It's hard to tell. The earliest citation in the first edition of the Oxford English Dictionary is dated 1766 and listed under "north" as an adjective. It uses "North-American" to denote a resident of North America. There is no separate entry for "North America" or even for "America," although "American" is there. The appendix to that edition, which contains information gathered too late for the main text, has more for "North American" as a noun and an adjective but nothing earlier than 1766. In the appendix, the "North American" entry explains North America as including Mexico. (It says nothing about Guatemala and so forth.) We now put Mexico in Central America, or at least we did when I went to school. So I don't know when the more northerly line was drawn. Maybe someone with other reference books can help. ~rb

: I've always known Mexico to be part of North America (and is one of the three NAFTA countries). Central America begins at Guatemala/Belize and ends at Panama. Central America is not considered a separate continent, but is part of North America.

: Since Panama was politically part of the South American country of Colombia, it was considered part of South America (Pictorial Atlas of the Greater United States and the World, George F. Cram & Co., Philadelphia, 1901). Panama became independent from Colombia in 1903 and presumably thereafter was free to be considered part of Central America based on geography.

: Mitchell's Intermediate or Second Geography (Thomas, Cowperthwaite & Co., Philadelphia, 1853) puts the boundary between North America and South America at the Isthmus of Darien, which is now called the Isthmus of Panama. That book lists only Guatimala (sic), Honduras, San Salvador, Nicaragua, and Costa Rica as being in Central America. For some reason Balize (sic) or British Honduras and the Mosquito Shore Territory are described in the chapter but omitted from the list of Central American states, probably because they were British possessions at the time.

The Encyclopedia Britannica considers North America to begin, on the south, with the Isthmus of Panama, and to include Greenland and the islands of the Caribbean Sea. Central America is that part of North America south of Mexico. "According to some authorities, North America begins at the narrows of Tehuantepec, with the intervening region called Central America." This division would put part of Mexico in Central America, the remainder in North America.

Most maps now show the southern border of North America not at the Isthmus of Panama but at the southern border of Panama.