Interchanging these two words anywhere outside the United States is just a bit more dangerous than pronouncing the word ‘tomato’ or ‘potato’ differently. Using the word soccer to reference football outside the USA can put you at immediate risk of ridicule or bodily harm. I’m trying to understand this, especially as we begin the month-long World Cup marathon. Interestingly, the term “soccer” actually originated in England.
The “official” word from Word-Detective…
- It’s true that the game known as “football” in most of the world (not just the UK) is known as “soccer” in the US, but we didn’t just pull the word out of the air so that we could call our quasi-gladiatorial extravaganzas “football.” In fact, Brits actually invented the word. “Soccer,” when it first appeared in the 1890s, was spelled “socca,” which was short for “association” or “association football,” meaning football played according to the rules laid down by the British Football Association. It was also called “socker” until the current form “soccer” appeared around 1895.
- The “er” suffix of “soccer,” incidentally, was often used in late 19th and early 20th century slang, and can also be found in the transformation of the name of the British game “rugby” (named after the Rugby School in England) into the popular term “rugger.” Rugby, incidentally, is a sport similar to American football, but played without the helmets and elaborate padding used in American stadiums.
As perplexing as it is for Americans to understand why the rest of the world calls soccer, football, consider their view of the rest of the world trying to solve the mystery of why two sports, rugby and football, where you pick up the ball and run with it, are called “football“. If anyone has any thoughts on soccer vs. football, would love to hear them. Or if you’re watching the World Cup, thoughts on the USA vs. England game on Saturday?
Now that I understand this, I might tackle cricket and baseball. On second thought….