Football or Soccer? Ask the (right) Brits.

So we are busy packing up the house, selling anything we can, and spending fun times with dear friends before we go.  As you can imagine, there is quite a bit going on right now.

Constantly, in the background of this activity, is the World Cup tournament in Brazil.  It is on the telly at the house.  It is a topic of conversation in the shops and over cups of coffee.  It is discussed in the social times after church.  It is pervasive.

However, what is it we are discussing?  Is it “football” or is it “soccer”?  That seems to be a question of constant debate.  In many parts of the world, the game is called football.  In parts of Europe, sporting folks will say something like “let’s go kick.”  But we Americans most often call it “soccer.”  My British friends will often quickly tell me that I must call it “Proper Football.”  They’ll remind me that it is not like that “American Football.”  They even told me, “there is no such thing as soccer…Ever.”

So that got some us wondering…is there such a thing as “soccer”?  We did some digging around for the source of the term.  The answer may surprise you.

According to the Oxford English Dictionary (that’s Oxford, England) the term “soccer” is rooted in efforts to try to distinguish the game from another English favorite: rugby.  The term is short for “Association” and was used to distinguish between “rugger.”  The earliest recorded use of the term go back to 1889, “I absolutely decline to see socca’ matches” and is from Ernest Dowson.  Dowson was born in Kent and died in London.  According to the Encyclopedia Britannica  (note the BRITISH source there), he was “one of the most gifted of the circle of English poets of the 1890s” (emphasis mine).  The OED lists other English references for “soccer” up through the 1920’s that include a comparison to the sport of Cricket and, one of my favorites, a reference to “A Methodist minister—who..doffed the Socker jersey.”  Eventually the term became more and more associated with the sport in American usage.  The English seemed to move away from their invention of the term “soccer” to prefer “football.”  However, the evidence seems to indicate that the term is solidly English.

Now I am not here to claim any judgements on which term better describes the sport over the American gridiron version.  Nor am I here to declare an absolute usage of one over the other.  However, I would say that the Americans should get a little more leeway when we use the term “soccer.”  Afterall, we are just using something we learned from the British!



For more information see: The Oxford English Dictionary, The Encyclopaedia Britannicaand a great article from The Grammarphobia Blog.

Americans aren't the only ones who use the term "soccer."  Image: Business Insider.

Americans aren’t the only ones who use the term “soccer.” Image: Business Insider.




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