Football (word): Wikis


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The English language word football may mean any one of several team sports (or the ball used in that respective sport), depending on the national or regional origin and location of the person using the word.

Where English is a first language the unqualified use of the word football is used to refer to the most popular code of football in that region. The sports most frequently referred to as simply football are Association football (soccer), American football, Australian rules football, Canadian football, Gaelic football, and Rugby football (rugby league or rugby union).

Of the 45 national FIFA (Fédération Internationale de Football Association) affiliates in which English is an official or primary language, 42 use football in their organizations official names (only Canada, Samoa and United States use soccer). Soccer is the prevailing term for association football in the U.S, Canada, Ireland, Australia and New Zealand where other codes of football are dominant. The term used for association football is going through a period of transition in recent times. In 2005, Australia's association football governing body changed its name from soccer to football to align with the general international usage of the term.[1] In 2006, New Zealand decided to follow suit citing "the international game is called football".[2]

There are also many other languages where the common term for association football uses a phonetically similar word to the English term football. (See the Names for association football article.)

Some of the many different codes of football.



The Oxford English Dictionary (OED) records that the first written use of the word football used to describe a game was in 1424 in an Act forbidding it. The first written use of the word football to describe the ball was 1486, and that the first use as a verb (hence footballing) was in 1599. For the etymology, the OED just indicates it is a compound of foot and ball.

Although it is widely believed that the word football, or "foot ball", originated in reference to the action of a foot kicking a ball, this may be a false etymology. The historical explanation has it that the word originally referred to a variety of games in medieval Europe, which were played on foot.[3] These sports were usually played by peasants, as opposed to the horse-riding sports more often enjoyed by aristocrats. This explanation is supported by the fact that the word football has always implied a wide variety of games played on foot, not just those that revolved around kicking a ball. In some cases, the word has been applied to games which involved carrying a ball and specifically banned kicking. For example, the English writer William Hone, writing in 1825 or 1826, quotes the social commentator Sir Frederick Morton Eden, regarding a game — which Hone refers to as "Foot-Ball" — played in the parish of Scone, Scotland:

The game was this: he who at any time got the ball into his hands, run [sic] with it till overtaken by one of the opposite part; and then, if he could shake himself loose from those on the opposite side who seized him, he run on; if not, he threw the ball from him, unless it was wrested from him by the other party, but no person was allowed to kick it.[4] [Emphasis added.]

However, there is no conclusive evidence for either hypothesis regarding the origins of the word.

The word "soccer" originated as an "Oxford '-er'" slang abbreviation of "association", and was popularized by a prominent English footballer, Charles Wreford-Brown. This origin is evident in the sometimes-heard variation, "soccer football."

National usage


Within Australia the term "football" is ambiguous and can mean up to four different codes of football in Australian English, depending on the context, geographical location and cultural factors; this includes Australian rules football, Rugby league, association football and Rugby union.[5] The most common usage of the word among the people is between the former two. In the states of Victoria, Western Australia, South Australia and Tasmania football commonly means the Australian rules variation with their league the Australian Football League,[6] the slang term footy is also used in an unofficial context,[7] while in these states the two Rugby football codes are called Rugby. There is a different situation in New South Wales and Queensland, where Rugby league is most popular and known as just football or the slang footy instead and Australian rules football is known as AFL, Australian football or Aussie rules, while Rugby union is known as Rugby, "union" and also simply football or footy.[5]

Prior to the 21st century association football was mostly known as just soccer in Australia and hence the national team is nicknamed the Socceroos.[8] However a period of official transition specifically related to the usage of the word football began in 2004 as the governing body changed its name to Football Federation Australia from the Australian Soccer Association and began referring to the sport exclusively as football.[1] Some high profile media outlets in the country followed in the form of Special Broadcasting Service, Fox Sports, the Sydney Morning Herald and other Sydney-based organisations.[9][10], while other high profile media outlets still refer to the code as "soccer". Although Rugby union fans often refer to their code as simply Rugby or sometimes "union", "football" is also widely used in reference to the code.[11] The small following of American football is known by the name gridiron, or in an unofficial context American football.[12]


In Canada, "football" can refer to association football, but more often refers to Canadian football or American football, often differentiated as either "CFL" (from the governing Canadian Football League) or "NFL" (from the US National Football League). Because of the similarity between the games, many people in both countries do not consider the two styles of gridiron football separate sports per se, but rather different codes of the same sport. If a Canadian were to say, "My brother plays football in the States", it would be clear from context that American football is meant. Association football, which is rapidly gaining in popularity, is called soccer by most, however, as Canada is a very multicultural country, those with strong ties to their foreign heritage, as well as those who have a serious level of involvement in the sport will often refer to Association football simply as "football". In fact, Toronto's MLS franchise club is simply known as Toronto FC, with the "FC" standing for "Football Club", while Vancouver's USL team is known as the "Vancouver Whitecaps Football Club". The topic of which football code is the "true" football can be the source for serious disagreement between fans of association football and either or both of the gridiron codes, as each wish to lay claim to the title. As the popularity of association football in Canada increases with greater access to international matches on television as well as the rising profile of Canadian teams in domestic leagues, it can be said that this is only the beginning of this debate.[13] Canadian French usage parallels English usage, with le football usually referring to Canadian or American football, and le soccer referring to Association football. When there is ambiguity, le football canadien or le football américain is used.[14]


In the English-speaking Caribbean, with the exception of the Bahamas, "football" and "soccer" are both used to refer to association football, but use of the word "football" is far more common. The nickname of the Trinidad & Tobago team, "The Soca Warriors", refers to a style of music, not the word soccer.


In Ireland, "football" or "footballer" can mean association football[15] Gaelic football[16][17] or rugby union[18][19]

Any of these sports may be called "football" depending on the context; conversely, without context, "football" is avoided because of its ambiguity using full names to prevent ambiguity so instead of football Gaelic football and rugby football or rugby union are used while Association football may be used along with soccer. This is the approach taken by most of the Republic of Ireland media.[20][21][22][23][24][25][26]

New Zealand

A haka performed before a match by the All Blacks

In New Zealand, the word football most commonly means rugby union due to the huge success of the All Blacks national side; this sport is better-known as just rugby.[27][28] The word football is also used to a lesser extent to refer to rugby league or association football. The slang term footie generally only means either of the two codes of rugby football, while rugby league is traditionally known as rugby league or just league. Association football is usually known as soccer by the general population; however usage of the term is going through a period of transition in recent times as the federation changed its name to New Zealand Football from New Zealand Soccer and the nickname of its woman's team to Football Ferns from SWANZ.[29][30] Other codes are not traditionally popular but Australian rules football is known as Aussie rules, while American football is known as gridiron.[31]

South Africa

In South Africa, the word football generally refers to association football.[citation needed] However, association football is commonly known as soccer despite this.[32] The domestic first division is the Premier Soccer League and both in conversation and the media (see e.g. The Sowetan or Independent Online), the term "soccer" is used almost exclusively. Despite this, the country's national association is called the South African Football Association and "football" might occasionally be used in official contexts.

Rugby union is another popular football code in South Africa, but it is commonly known as just rugby or sometimes rugby union to distinguish it from rugby league, which has a smaller presence.[33][34]

United Kingdom

An example of the word "soccer" used in London in August 2006.

As in other English-speaking countries, the unqualified use of "football" in the United Kingdom tends to refer to the most popular code of football in the country, which in the case of England and Scotland is association football. However the term "soccer" is used by some, and understood as a name for association football in the same way that colloquial term rugger is used for rugby union.[35] For fans who are more interested in other codes of football the use the word football may refer to their own code and they may call association football soccer for brevity and clarity. This is notably common in areas where rugby league has a greater following than association football.[36]

Irish nationalists in Northern Ireland may use "football" for Gaelic football (see above).[37] Outside the nationalist community in Northern Ireland, Gaelic football is usually known as Gaelic football.

Australian rules football and American football are not played or watched by many in the UK.[38] Australian rules football is usually known as Australian rules football, Australian football, or Australian rules (frequently shortened to Aussie rules). Likewise American football is usually known by that name or "gridiron",[39][40] a name made familiar to a wider British audience by Channel 4, when it showed American football on Saturday evenings in 1982-92.[41]

United States

An American football

In the United States, the word "football" refers to American Football. Association football is called "soccer". Soccer is a less popular spectator sport, though it does have a considerable following, particularly among younger people and immigrants. Soccer is one of the most popular participatory sports in the United States among children (though its popularity is equaled or eclipsed by other sports in certain regions, especially baseball and ice hockey). Rugby union is generally known as rugby, with the "union" name rarely used. Gaelic football and rugby league have very small, albeit growing, numbers of adherents. Australian rules football also has a very small following, but is known simply as "footy" by those who watched the Fosters highlights on ESPN and also by the sport's governing body in the country which often refers to itself as "US Footy". Most people in the US are not usually aware of the distinction between rugby union and rugby league, and consequently both are referred to simply as "rugby". Because of the number of American players in the Canadian Football League, a small number of Americans follow Canadian football, which is occasionally broadcast on American cable channels. Because of the similarity between American and Canadian football, many people in both countries do not consider the two styles of football separate sports per se, but rather different codes of the same sport. If an American were to say, "My brother plays football in Canada", it would be clear from context that Canadian football is meant.

"Football" as a loanword

Many languages use the English word "football" and variations of it as loanwords for Association football. Examples include:

  • Czech: fotbal
  • French: football (le foot)
  • Portuguese: futebol
  • Spanish: fútbol or futbol[42]
  • Turkish: futbol
  • Scots: fitbaa
  • Serbian: fudbal

This has contributed to the adoption of the word football into the auxiliary language Interlingua.

The loanwords bear little or no resemblance to the native words for "foot" and "ball". By contrast, some languages have calques of "football": their speakers use equivalent terms that combine their words for "foot" and "ball". An example is the Greek ποδόσφαιρο (podósfero).

By contrast, in German, "Football" is a loanword for American football, while the German word Fußball, a calque of "football" (Fuß = "foot", Ball = "ball"), means Association football. The same goes for Dutch voetbal (voet = "foot", bal = "ball"), Swedish fotboll (fot = "foot", boll = "ball"), and so on — the words for "foot" and "ball" are very similar in all the Germanic languages. Only two Germanic languages do not use "football" or a calque thereof as their primary word for association football:

  • Afrikaanssokker. This echoes the predominant use of "soccer" in South African English.
  • Icelandicknattspyrna (knatt- = ball- and spyrna = kicking) is one of the two most common terms; this reflects a tendency to create indigenous words for foreign concepts. However, the calque fótbolti is equally common if not more common. Knattspyrna is a more formal term.

The Celtic languages also generally refer to association football with calques of "football" — an example is the Welsh pêl-droed. However, Irish, which like Afrikaans is native to a country where "soccer" is the most common English term for the sport, uses sacar.

See also

Notes and references

  1. ^ a b Soccer to become football in Australia ( December 17, 2004) "ASA chairman Frank Lowy said the symbolic move would bring Australia into line with the vast majority of other countries which call the sport football".
  2. ^ NZ Football - The Local Name Of The Global Game ( April 27, 2006) "The international game is called football and were part of the international game so the game in New Zealand should be called football".
  3. ^ (a.) ICONS Online (commissioned by the UK Department for Culture, Media and Sport; no date) "History of Football"; (b.) Bill Murray (sports historian), quoted by The Sports Factor, 2002, "Tie Me Kangaroo Down, Sport" (Radio National, Australian Broadcasting Corporation, May 31, 2002) and Michael Scott Moore, "Naming the Beautiful Game: It's Called Soccer" (Der Spiegel, June 7, 2006); (c.) Professional Football Researchers Association (U.S.A.), (no date) "A Freendly Kinde of Fight: The Origins of Football to 1633". Access date for all references: February 11, 2007.
  4. ^ William Hone, 1825-26, The Every-Day Book, "February 15." Access date: March 15, 2007.
  5. ^ a b "Football in Australia". 8 January 2008. 
  6. ^ "AFL History". 8 January 2008. 
  7. ^ "Footy FAQ". 8 January 2008. 
  8. ^ "Blogs and Editorials". Socceroo Realm. 8 January 2008. 
  9. ^ "The World Game - Craig Foster". SBS Sport. 8 January 2008. 
  10. ^ "Football raises voice over competing din". Sydney Morning Herald. 8 January 2008. 
  11. ^ "About Rugby". 8 January 2008.,182.html. 
  12. ^ "Gridiron in Australia". 8 January 2008. 
  13. ^ The Canadian Soccer Association / L'Association canadienne de soccer
  14. ^ :: Site Officiel de la Ligue Canadienne de Football(French)
    Fédération de soccer du Québec(French)
    "Le soccer gagne du terrain!". Société Radio-Canada. Retrieved 2008-07-06. (French) (Soccer gains ground!)
    Sometimes le football and le soccer are interchangeable: "Sport le plus regardé ..., le football ou soccer ..." (Société Radio-Canada)
  15. ^ "U2: Put 'em Under Pressure. Republic of Ireland Football Squad. FIFA World Cup song.". Retrieved 20 February 2010. "Cause Ireland are the greatest football team." 
  16. ^ "DCU footballers". Retrieved 2008-03-02. 
  17. ^ "French invasion of Croker mirrors our historical past". Retrieved 2008-03-02. 
  18. ^ "O'Sullivan wary of Paterson ploy". Retrieved 2008-03-02. 
  19. ^ "History of Skerries RFC". Retrieved 2008-03-02. 
  20. ^ Sports News Ireland | Irish Sport News | Daily Sport News | Herald Sport -
  21. ^ Ireland Sports News & Latest Soccer, Rugby, GAA & Racing News Headlines -
  22. ^
  23. ^ Sport News |
  24. ^ RTÉ Sport: Irish and International Sport News, Fixtures and Results
  25. ^ The Munster Express Online » Sports
  26. ^ Evening Echo | Cork News | Cork Sport News
  27. ^ "Maori Personalities in Sport". 8 January 2008. 
  28. ^ "Welcome to The Game - How To Play". 8 January 2008. 
  29. ^ "Soccer gets the boot". The Press. 10 May 2007. 
  30. ^ "Football Ferns step out with new name". 10 May 2007. 
  31. ^ "Gridiron in New Zealand". 10 May 2007. 
  32. ^ Soccer in South Africa
  33. ^ "History of the game". 8 January 2008. 
  34. ^ "South African Rugby League: History". 8 January 2008. 
  35. ^ OED:Soccer "The game of football as played under Association rules." and Rugger "Slang or colloquial alteration of RUGBY (in the sense of ‘Rugby football’). Freq. attrib. rugger-tackle"
  36. ^ Tony Collins. Football, rugby or rugger?, BBC sound recording with written transcript, and a comment in prose by Jonnie Robinson, Curator, English accents and dialects, British Library Sound Archive.
  37. ^ Campbell, Denis. "My team - Derry City: An interview with Martin McGuinness", The Guardian, 8 April 2001. Retrieved on 2007-12-09
  38. ^ Staff. The NFL comes to Wembley, The Sun, 27 October 2007. "UK popularity: About 7,000 of us play [American Football] and there are around 100 university and club teams."
  39. ^ Simon Hart, Chambers pursues old path to gridiron glory, The Daily Telegraph, 20 Mar 2004
  40. ^ The NFL comes to Wembley, The Sun, 27 October 2007. "We call it Gridiron"
  41. ^ Matt Tench, California dreaming The Observer September 2, 2001.
  42. ^ Both spellings are used.[1][2] See also futbol.

Further reading

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