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The New Oxford American Dictionary reports the following definition for Middle America:

Middle America |ˈˌmɪdl əˈmɛrəkə|
noun
1 the middle class in the U.S., esp. when regarded as a conservative political force.
• the Midwest of the U.S.
2 the North American region that includes Mexico and Central America, and often the West Indies.
DERIVATIVES
Middle American noun
Middle-American adjective

Why is Midwest in the Midwest of the U.S. written capitalized?

Compare it with the following definition given for northeast:

adjective
1 lying toward, near, or facing the northeast.
• (of a wind) coming from the northeast: there was a strong northeast wind.
2 of or denoting the northeastern part of a specified country, region, or town, or its inhabitants: northeast Baltimore.

In northeast Baltimore, northeast is not capitalized. What is the difference between the two cases?

When I write Middle American to mean an American person of the middle class, why cannot I write middle American?

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2 Answers

up vote 3 down vote accepted

The difference between northeast Baltimore and Middle America is that "Middle America" is the name of a particular notion that has extra connotations outside of just the fact that it is in the middle of America. As you can see, it carries with it the concept of the middle class and conservative ideas. So, this whole phrase is the name of a thing that is greater than the sum of its parts, and it is capitalized. The northeast of Baltimore, on the other hand, is not the name of a specific region in the sense of being defined and carrying any extra meaning.

This happens all over the place. If I talk about living in east St. Louis (and the reader knows I am not being careless in my capitalization), then they would assume I probably mean the eastern region of the city of St. Louis. But if I say I live in East St. Louis, then they know that is the name of a different town located next to St. Louis, in a different state.

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Midwest is a proper noun in that context, so it must be capitalized. Unlike northeast, it is not a standard direction; it is referring to a specific region of the U.S.

Northeast is both a direction and a region. When it is a direction, it is not capitalized unless it is used as part of a proper name.

Middle America is a proper name, thus both words are capitalized. The middle of America would not be capitalized.

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