Don’t Touch Down for a Touchdown

See if your football fanatic friends can explain the meaning and history behind some common football words!

Let’s start with a strangely confusing term in the game: touchdown. For most of the game the last thing a player wants is for the pigskin to make contact with the ground. Why would it be called a touchdown, if the football doesn’t need to touch down in order to score? The contradictory nature of the term touchdown is a holdover from rugby, where the ball must indeed touch to score points.

What about the weird words that a quarterback says before the ball enters play, “hut, hut, hike?” There isn’t a dictionary definition or explanation for why these words in particular are used, but this is what we know. “Hut” has long been used in military marching cadences as a surrogate for “one.” Hike is the signal to execute the snap, “to put (the ball) into play by tossing it back to the quarterback or other member of the offensive backfield, esp. from between the legs when bent over double and facing the line of scrimmage; center.” The use of hike probably relates to its meaning “to hike something up,” like a pair of pants. The motion of the snap is arguably similar.

The quarterback used to be known as the blocking back. The “back” part of the word refers to the player’s position behind the offensive line. The designation of “quarter,” “half,” or “full” indicates the distance from the formation on the 50-yard line. The quarterback is behind the tacklers; the half backs further out, and the full back is the player behind the rest. The “back” terms aren’t as relevant as they once were; newer formations position players differently and assign different roles to team members.

Do you have any other football term questions? Throw them out there, in our comments section.