Despite its British origins, Americans get a bad rap for using the word 'soccer'

Americans use the word soccer to describe the game that just about everybody else in the world calls football, and this duel over semantics enrages purists of the game.

But few realize that the word soccer actually originated in Britain in the late nineteenth century, said Stefan Szymanski, a University of Michigan professor in the School of Kinesiology. Szymanski examines the rise and fall of the word soccer in his paper, "It's , not soccer," and suggests that the venom unleashed by critics of the word soccer has more to do with anti-Americanism than with tradition.

"These people have conveniently forgotten, or they don't realize, that the word soccer originated in England," and is thought to be associated with upper middle class students at elite universities, Szymanski said. "(The term soccer) was only later adopted by Americans to distinguish it from gridiron."

To understand how the vitriolic debate over usage of soccer or football began, Szymanski's paper outlines British and U.S. publications and from 1900 on to chart the popularity of both words, particularly the nosedive of the term soccer in British English.

In the first half of the twentieth century, soccer was a recognized term in Britain but it wasn't widely used in publications there until after World War II, he found. In Britain, the term peaked between 1960 and 1980, when it was used almost interchangeably with football.

One can only speculate on the rise and fall of the use of the word soccer in Britain, Szymanski said.

"Stuffier pre-war era editors" may have perceived the word soccer as too informal, Szymanski said, but after the war, word usage may have become more informal. Or the popularity of U.S. soldiers who were stationed in Britain may have reinforced the usage.

"In the 1980s you start to hear the argument that soccer is an American word, as distinct from the British football," Szymanski said. "It is hard to think of any explanation for the decline other than the rising popularity of the word soccer in the U.S."

Szymanski argues that both words are necessary.

"Americans will continue to call the game soccer whatever anyone else says, not out of perversity but out of the need to distinguish it from America's favorite game, football," Szymanski said. "The rest of us can continue to get mad about it if we want, but it might more sensible to get over it and recognize that our favorite can just as easily be called soccer as football."

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More information: The complete paper is available online: … tball-not-soccer.pdf
Citation: Despite its British origins, Americans get a bad rap for using the word 'soccer' (2014, June 10) retrieved 20 July 2019 from
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Jun 10, 2014
Q. What is this dumb article doing on a science blog?

A. Physorg is trying to cash in on the World Cup madness.

Jun 10, 2014
If one must insist on one correct answer, why exist?

Jun 10, 2014
ignore the Euro-weenies.

Jun 10, 2014
Another article bolstering Britains' claim to have invented everything, including swimming. It is called short man syndrome.

Jun 11, 2014
It's easy:

football = generic term for a game involving kicking a BALL with the FOOT. Played in Britain since mediaeval times, to local 'rules', and probably in any country where there was a pig's bladder going spare.

Association football = codified version of the above. Rules first set down in the 19th century. Football Association (hence 'sociation => soccer) founded 1863

rugby football = game originating at Rugby School that allows the ball to be carried as well as kicked.

Gaelic football = dangerous variation in Ireland that allows the ball to be carried and small calibre weapons to be used.

Ozzie rules football = bit like Gaelic football, but they don't like sleeves on their shirts

American football = wimps version of all of the above, where players have to wear full-body armour, and play stops every time anyone does anything so they can have a talk about it. Approx 300 players per team, most of whom only play for about 30 secs per game.

Please be precise!

Jun 15, 2014
Yes,wimps like Ronnie Lott who,when told his finger was broken,and he'd miss several games in which his team needed him for it to heal,elected to have it cut off. What a nanny-boy,right?

Jun 15, 2014
Or wimps like every 'soccer' player who, when 'touched' by an opposing player, fall down in (agony?) with pitiful pained looks on their little baby faces. Boy, if a hockey game was ever played like these childish wimps it would never finish...

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