You say soccer, I say football
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Only hours now to go until the World Cup kicks off, and I am very, VERY excited. Embarrassingly so.
And it seems that I’m not entirely alone in the USA on that score. Only a few weeks back the Champions League final was shown for the first time live on network US television and all the World Cup games will be easy enough to view. Coverage of the tournament isn’t (and possibly never will be) at the all-encompassing levels it is in Europe or South America, where God help you if you’re not a fan as you’re going to be having a miserable four weeks, but there is a palpable interest (and perhaps even more curiosity) in the World Cup over here.
So that’s good for me. It means I won’t be floundering when the conversation turns to sport. Most of the time when people start banging on about the NFL or the NHL, they might as well be speaking Esperanto for all I can understand, but when the conversation turns to actual football talk I am finally in a position to contribute something intelligent to the debate. One thing, however, that I have noticed when talking to numerous Americans about the sport is that they’re often very quick to apologise to me for using the “S” word. As if saying it in front of an Englishman is grossly offensive
“It must really annoy you when we call it that,” they’ll say with a somewhat sheepish look on their face. “It’s so dumb that we call it soccer and not football. Calling it football makes so much more sense.”
And yes, it does, I agree. Football is a much better name for the sport, it’s unfussy and functional. Soccer, by contrast, is awful, it sounds a little leaden to my ear. But please, you really have no need to apologise for using it. This isn’t to say I don’t have problems with some of your word choices or pronunciations. Calling a “courgette” a “zucchini”, or an “aubergine” an “eggplant” is plain wrong. Likewise, calling “coriander” “cilantro” and “rocket” “arugula” is just confusing. As someone who doesn’t like either “coriander” or “rocket”, I was convinced I was the butt of some cosmic joke when I first came to the US and ordered what I thought was an intriguing sounding salad of arugula and cilantro. But calling “football” “soccer”? Well, we’re really in no position to get on our high-horse on that one. “Soccer” is a silly word, yes, and it’s a very silly word that the English (and not the Americans) coined.
The word “soccer” probably originated at Oxford University at the end of the Nineteenth Century. The students at Oxford liked giving pointless slang words for things, and imaginatively their favoured method for crafting a slang word was usually just to stick an “-er” suffix to a word. So the two most popular forms of football were given slang names. Rugby football became “rugger” and association football (so named because the rules of the game were codified by the Football Association) became “soccer” (from “assoc”). Oxford graduate and England football captain Charles Wreford-Brown (or Wreforder-Browner as he was known at Oxford) has then been credited with popularising the term further in the early Twentieth Century.
So as much as some Brits might erroneously claim, Soccer is not a dumb American term.
Anyway, not long to go now and the only prescription for this World Cup fever I’ve got is New Order’s “World in Motion”.