Wednesday, November 14, 2007

A Brief Digression About "Football"

Last week, The Chess Mind blog discussed the potential merits and demerits of using the soccer scoring system of 3-1-0 for scoring wins, draws and loses, instead of the traditional scoring system used in the chess world of 1-0.5-0. In the post that started the discussion, Dennis Monokroussos (the blogger behind that excellent chess site) tossed in the following throwaway line:

soccer (strangely called "football" by non-Americans)....
Having read Dennis's site for some time now, I took this as good-natured ribbing of his fellow Americans. He's just not a man to go looking for a fight over nothing. However, a commenter used that throwaway line as an excuse to lecture Americans on their character flaws:
The fact, that something is non-American does not mean, that it is strange. This shows American arrogance; something I haven't get used to in this blog. It is sufficient to note, that the vast majority of the world population calls this sport football (or a variation like voetbal, fussball). Moreover it is older than the American version of rugby, which strangely allows its participants to take the ball in hands and throw it.
This claptrap about "football" got my ire up, so I wrote a longish comment about the use of the words "football", "soccer" and some other terms. It was useful enough that I'm going to repost it here, with some slight editing:

"Football" refers to games played on foot, rather than games played solely with feet. What Europeans now call football is more properly called Association Football. In fact FIFA's definitions state the following:

12 Association Football: the game controlled by FIFA and organised in accordance with the Laws of the Game.

It gets shortened to "football" (or a variant) in nations where that is the most popular kind of football. In other nations (mostly the USA) where other forms of football are more popular, the more popular game is usually simply called football.

Rugby is another variant. And while it's normally just called Rugby, the more proper name for it would be "Rugby football". American football (once a.k.a. Gridiron football) would be the proper term for what we in the USA call football. But for ease of use all the modifiers usually get dropped when one form or another becomes the dominant sport. I imagine that Rugby football became "Rugby" simply because both Rugby football and Association football both remained very popular in the British Empire, and Rugby is a nice short term. (Also, in English language the 'rug' in Rugby suggests 'rugged', which that game surely is.)

Finally, the term 'soccer' isn't an American term at all. It's English slang from the late 1800s, and yes, it's slang for "Association football". (The story I've usually heard is that the SOC comes from as-SOC-iation. I’ve heard the SOC was prominent on old versions of the balls used, but I don't know if that's true or just urban legend.)

So, in short, "football" applies to a variety of games. Association football is what FIFA regulates. (In fact it is in the name of the organization!) Association football usually gets shortened to "football" in countries where it is the primary variant of football. It is NOT the dominant form in the USA - that would be American football. Therefore Americans tend to call our game "football" as a matter of convenience. However, "soccer" is an old established variant name of Association football which has proper English origins.

So, we Americans are not being arrogant by calling our game football. Neither are Europeans and most of the rest of the world arrogant for simply calling Association football "football". However, people who insist that Americans are arrogant for our use of the terms "football" and "soccer" are ignorant, as they have no idea of the etymology of these words, or how & why they are used as they are around the world.


Pastor_Jeff said...

Some people's etymological ignorance leads them to assess others' words with a charity properly described as niggardly.

Icepick said...