Why Do Americans Call Football “Soccer”?

soccer ball

If you’re reading this in the US or Canada, you’re likely familiar with the sport of soccer. But, if you’re reading this pretty much anywhere else, then you probably know the same game rules and call it football. What’s the difference?

How did we end up with two names, football and soccer, for the same sport?

Let’s start in England in the 19th century. Young men, especially at boarding schools, played a number of versions of moving a ball (with hands or feet) across an opponent’s goal. At Rugby School, for instance, they played a version that allowed for use of the hands; at Eton College, only feet were permitted.

So, in 1863 in London, a Football Association (the world’s first) was formed to standardize the rules. Two codes resulted from it: rugby football, after Rugby School, and association football, after that newly formed association.

Where does the word soccer come from?

Now, starting the 1875, students, especially at Oxford University, were fond a playful slang practice where they shortened words and adding –er to their end. Breakfast, for instant, became brekker. Rugby? RuggerFootball? Footer.

The
association
in association football was also shorted to soccer. This clips off the first and last three syllables of association, leaving –soc-, onto which that chummy –er was added, yielding soccer. The term is first recorded as socker in 1885. Footer is slightly older, found in that fateful year of 1863.

What is the origin of American football?

But, what about that other football that people in the US bring to the Super Bowl? American football (a term recorded in the 1870s) is based on rugby, and had already taken off by the time association football became popular in the US.

For whatever reason, the name soccer stuck for association football and football for the gridiron sport. In fact, the governing body for soccer in the US was called the United States Soccer Football Association until 1974.

Does anyone else around the world call football soccer?

Americans and Canadians aren’t alone, however, in calling the sport soccer. Many in Australia, New Zealand, and Ireland call association football soccer, likely as a way to distinguish it from Australian rules football and Gaelic football, which are commonly referred to just as football in those places—just as Americans call American football simply football.

So, the next time a British person thumbs their nose at you for calling football soccer, you can let them know that soccer was a UK original! And, if you’re having trouble keeping all these names straight, take a page from Spanish and call it …
fútbol
!

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