‘You say potato, I say potato’. Ah, that doesn’t really work in print. Argentinian, Argentinean and Argentine however, has stirred the passions of grammarians, pedants, and now, and you didn’t see this coming, you. Over the next few hundred words we’re going on a literary treasure hunt – one that digs deep into history, literature and that huge dictionary propping up my printer.
Let’s establish exactly what we are trying to say. There are three uses for the words Argentinian, Argentinean and Argentine:
- Demonym – a type of noun to describe someone from Argentina. An Argentine, an Argentinian, an Argentinean. This is the demonym or gentilic. For example: some one from Lichtenstein is a Lichtensteiner, some one from Luxemburg is a Luxemburger and some one from Malta is a… (ho ho)
- Adjective – the second use is an adjective – of, or pertaining to, Argentina. For example, an Argentine steak, an Argentinian football player or an Argentinean book
- Noun – this we can happily ignore. The only noun using the word Argentine (and not Argentinian or Argentinean) is “any various small silver-scaled salmon like marine fish”
If we are talking about someone from Argentina, we call them a… insert preference here. Yep, it would be fair to say no one is really sure. The Cambridge International Dictionary of English Language is happy to shrug its (proverbial) shoulders in the style of Argentine taxi driver asked where your boutique hotel is and say ‘Que se yo!’ – ‘what do I know!’ According to the boffins in Cambridge, it’s correct to use any of these for its people or an adjective. They are synonymous.
Unfortunately, and rather predictably, not everyone agrees.
Debate rages on forums on the internet – and, yes, if you want to find controversy on how yellow a lemon is, you’ll find some extremists on the internet who will debate it. Before they descend into slander, thinly veiled racism and Maradona jokes, however, the salient points seem to be that an Argentine is only used for a person: Perón was an Argentine. Argentinian is used as an adjective: it was an Argentinian player who scored the goal. And as a modern version of the noun: Perón was an Argentinian. Several dictionaries (well two of the three I have looked at) seem also to relegate Argentine to useful pile marked “archaic”. Archaic it may be, but out of use it definitely is not. (However, Argentina as a country itself was often called ‘the Argentine’ with the definitive article (see the Gambia, the Netherlands).
And as for Argentinean, we can happily dump that on another the pile marked “American”. Dictionaries seem relatively assured that this usage as a noun and an adjective is from the United States, who, in an attempt to take out any irregularities in English (following Chileans from Chile), have perhaps sensibly stuck to uniformity. But, and you’ll be learning by now there’s always a but, National Geographic’s stylesheet uses Argentine in adjectival phrases too.
So where does that leave us (apart from a little confused)? Well let’s turn to the Oxford English Dictionary for our definitive answer. Argentine is listed as the correct demonym: she is an Argentine. And Argentinian the correct British adjectival form. And I’m happy to take that as read. As are the Guardian (although its far from consistent) and Time Out – or at least when I edited it.
“The Argentine was one of the best Argentinian players at Inter Milan.” Crap sentence, correct grammatical form.
OK, I need a glass of wine. An Argentinian one.
Article thumbnail image taken by Tony Unruh
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