Soccer is a British Word, and Why American Football is Called That Even Though Feet are Minimally Used

Sports fans worldwide like to get on the Americans cases about our lack of enthusiasm over soccer or football, even though things are changing in our corner of the word.  But the playing of the sport is not my concern today.  I want to give a small etymology lesson.

Being divided by a common language, our friends overseas use the word “football” while we use “soccer”.  But that wasn’t always the case.

To make a long story short, when association football (soccer) gained popularity in the upper crust schools like Eton and Rugby, several clubs met in a tavern in London in October 1863 and created the Football Association and the foundation of the rules that we see today.  In 1871, some members of the Football Association split off and formed the Rugby Football Union to differentiate their rules of their game, especially with the whole using the hands and passing the ball thing.  At the time, the names of these games were shortened to “rugger” for rugby and “soccer” (see the “soc” in association) for football.  Eventually, especially with the American troops learning to like soccer while in Europe, our using the word left a bad taste in the British mouths, so they gradually switched over to football like the rest of the world.

In summary, the Britons like to get on our case for using a word they created in the first place.  And they wonder why we rebelled.

Now, the question I always hear is why do we call American football “football” when the ball is passed and carried most of the time?  It’s because of its origins, and the name stuck.  In the first collegiate game between Rutgers and Princeton in New Jersey in 1869, you were not allow to throw or handle the ball, but there was plenty of brute physical contact.  The game looked more like a combination of rugby and association football.  So we preserve our history in our own ways, even though the game changed to include scantily clad cheerleaders and partially inflated balls.  Yes, Tom Brady, I went there.

Look kids, no helmets, padding, or spandex.  And one man and his dog look wistfully to the distance.  Photo courtesy of Wikipedia.
Look kids, no helmets, padding, or spandex. And one man and his dog look wistfully to the distance. Photo courtesy of Wikipedia.

So hopefully, I gave you a little sports trivia to pass along to your friends.  They will be impressed.  They may buy you drinks and be in awe of the spectacle that is your brain.  Or it’s more likely they’ll think you are a wazzock.  You’re welcome.

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