Why is VSA not short for Vereinigte Staaten von Amerika?

It does not seem like there is any German abbreviation for Vereinigte Staaten von Amerika.

Why was the word USA included in everyday use as an anglicism? It seems unusual when looking at German versions of abbreviated foreign country/region names.

E.g. it appears common for a German speaker to call the UK Vereinigtes Königreich, the EU Europäische Union or the US Vereinigte Staaten.

But only the latter has a commonly used non-German abbreviation. So how come nobody says

Die UK haben den Brexit wohl endgütig durchgezogen.

but saying

In den USA geht es mal wieder drunter und drüber.

is understood as correct?

  • 3
    "E.g. it appears common for a German speaker to call the UK Vereinigtes Königreich" that's not abbrevated as VK though. Feb 10 '20 at 19:01
  • 1
    Please note: VSA was used in the past. Even today there are some german "(nationalist) communities" calling the United States VSA.
    – mtwde
    Feb 10 '20 at 19:34
  • 2
    Man sagt auch "die UNO" und "die NATO".
    – fdb
    Feb 11 '20 at 13:03
  • 2
    "Die UNO" because it stands for "United Nations Organisation" and "Organisation" (the German word) is female.
    – Nick
    Feb 11 '20 at 14:12
  • 2
    But germans do use UK. We sometimes use GB, but that is not the same as UK, but still also english. And EU is ambiguous as it is the same in english and german. There aren't that many countries that come to mind where abbreviations are used. We still call the Commonwealth Commonwealth.
    – Polygnome
    Feb 11 '20 at 20:29

First, VSA is short for Vereinigte Staaten von Amerika! It's a rare abbreviation, but it exists/existed.

I have mostly seen it in publications from the Social Sciences and always asked myself, if this VSA had been imposed by a very old supervisor, some rules requiring usage of the German language or if it was the author's free choice.
(In a comment to a deleted answer the usage of "VSA" is attributed to ein paar rechte Spinner. However, my samples were mostly from politically left-leaning sources.)

USA is infinitely more common. There is a normative power of the visuals as Christian Geiselmann calls it. If you see "USA" printed on every bag of food aid, on every second T-shirt, on vehicles around military bases, in TV news broadcasts about US politics and so on, then it will become natural. (It might be different, if people don't speak English and use a different alphabet.)

What's about UK? That abbreviation is widely understood, but rarely used in German. If one wants to shorten "Vereinigtes Königreich von Großbritannien und Nordirland", one uses Großbritannien, England or GB. I don't remember having ever seen UK in Germany, whilst GB is often seen on the streets (on every British car). GB is also more common as label in statistical figures accompanying newspaper articles.

One important factor: The abbreviation UK hadn't been terribly popular in the United Kingdom either. Its usage didn't gain steam until the mid-90s (see Google ngram).

  • But did it exist? I have been trying to find results, but they're incredibly rare and limited to kooks and crazies. An example: google.com/search?q=%22Kriegseintritt+der+VSA%22
    – David Vogt
    Feb 12 '20 at 21:19
  • @Jan: It's interesting that UK has become more common than USA and might even surpass USA at its heyday. Yet, I don't see how it affects my claim that the abbreviation UK has become much more popular since the mid-90s? If you had changed the corpus to German (2012), you would indeed have seen something that might counter my arguments in the preceding sections. However, there are numerous poorly scanned text pages and "secondary" meanings ("Unterstützte Kommunikation", "Unternehmenskultur", "Unterkiefer", "k.u.k.",...). Feb 21 '20 at 15:37
  • I see both UK and USA gaining a similar popularity (if you account for how important the relevant states are) since the 1950’s/1960’s, somewhat nicely coinciding with the end of the British Empire. During the Cold War, there were many reasons to write about the USA (chiefly with respect to the USSR). Thereafter, the UK featured more prominently in written texts for whatever reason; I suspect that towards the end of the Ngram scale Brexit is a major contributor.
    – Jan
    Feb 25 '20 at 1:59
  • The key thing about Ngrams is that it isn’t so much popularity of use but actually frequency of use. If there is a lot to write about a given word in a certain period, that will seem very popular.
    – Jan
    Feb 25 '20 at 2:00

It is never possible to clearly explain the reason why language develops in one direction and not to the other. The general rule is it starts with several possibilities how new things can be said and statistically one wins. My guess is the word clearly spoke for itself and there was no need to invent another one, especially because it's an abbreviation for which a new (translated) abbreviation first needs the mind bridge of knowing the appropriate translation of the unabbreviated word.

  • 4
    Moreover, there is the normative power of the visuals: the USA habitually paint the letters "USA" on everything, and so people see it very often, wherever in the world. It would be difficult to overwrite this visual experience of people through introducing an alternative "VSA" - which anywould would not be depicted anywhere but in German texts. Feb 11 '20 at 21:06

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.