As the FIFA World Cup powers through, one common question resurfaces: Why do Americans call it “soccer,” not “football?”
Although the term “soccer” may seem rooted in American culture, the answer actually lies 200 years ago with the British.
According to a research paper written by University of Michigan professor Stefan Szymanski, several British universities began playing various forms of the sport around 1801 under different rules. The schools soon wanted to compete against each other; however, standardization of the rules was difficult. Thus, these variations became known as their own individual sports.
One form of the sport uses hands, which is now known as “rugby,” while the other form is known as “association football,” named after the Football Association, founded in 1863 in London to encourage the growth of the game.
“This distinction is thought to be the origin of the word ‘soccer,’” Szymanski said. “The rugby football game was shortened to “rugger,” a term recognized in British English to the present day, and the association football was, plausibly, shortened to ‘soccer.’”
It seems most logical that the word “association” was shortened down to “assoc,” which was then rearranged to form the term “soccer.”
When the sport spread to America, the term “soccer” was adopted in order to distinguish it from “American football” (think “the Super Bowl”).
“The game called ‘football” in the U.S. (colloquially ‘gridiron’ and ‘American football’ in Britain and elsewhere) evolved out of collegiate athletics in the late 19th century,” Szymanski said. “The first officially recorded college football game was played in 1869 between Princeton and Rutgers according to Rutgers Rules, which were a cross between Association Football and Rugby Football rules.”
From 1960 to 1980 the term “soccer” was used as frequently as “football” in Britain. However, its use has declined since as it became more ingrained and associated with American culture.
In the end, this sport manages to unite fans of all ethnicities, nationalities and cultures across the world in an exciting game where countries and people stand equally on the playing field, despite any linguistic differences.