You say “soccer”, I say “football”. Let’s call the whole World Cup off.

It’s played by a quarter of a billion people in over 200 countries, making it the world’s most popular sport. A relatively simple game, it serves as a source of both national pride and agony for many nations.

So, what are we talking about? Well, it depends whom you ask!

Commonly referred to as soccer or football , this global phenomenon has an interesting history that goes beyond the field, or pitch, and into the linguistic arena.

While many may consider soccer to be an American word, it actually has roots in England, which is where the modern rules of soccer were established in the 1860’s. According to the Online Etymology Dictionary, soccer came about in the late 1880’s as a shortened form of Assoc., which is an abbreviation of association from Football Association. Over time, the “A” in Assoccer was dropped and we were left with soccer.

But, why does soccer have the suffix -er? This ending,  known as the Oxford -er , was a colloquial suffix that was popular at Oxford University in the 1870’s, which is where soccer is believed to have been first used. This also explains why soccer was primarily used by the English upper classes.

In modern times, Americans, however, aren’t the only ones to use soccer. The Japanese refer to it as サッカー (sakkā), in Afrikaans it’s sokker, and it’s sacar in Irish.

Football, on the other hand, has a less complex history. Football was used as early as the 1400’s and has led to derivations in other languages such as fútbol (Spanish), futebol (Portuguese) Fußball (German), and футбол (Russian).

Italians use neither soccer nor football and refer to the sport as calcio (calcho). Other languages have calques of football and their speakers use equivalent terms that combine their words for foot and ball. For example, in Greek it’s ποδόσφαιρο (podósfero), in Arabic it’s كرة القدم (Korat Alqadam), and in Polish, piłka nożna is used.


What’s the word for soccer or football in your language? Share it with us in the comments below!



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