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Soccer, unfortunately, is a very British word

I’ve spoken to an American more than once in my life where the conversation turned to football. Not the version with dozens of armor-covered (armor-covered?) players rushing at each other for a few seconds and then stopping for 10 minutes before the next “play”, but football as it’s meant to be. Small boys in the park. Jumpers for goalposts.

There is often a moment where an American says “soccer”, pauses, and then says “football” with strangely elongated vowels, in order to emphasize that they know the alternative word for the sport, reassuring me that they’ve heard of Manchester United and Tottenham Hotspurs. Similarly, I’ve gotten into the habit of explaining why the words are a lot closer than they might think. Surprisingly, it turns out that “soccer” is a very British word after all.

The word “soccer” comes from the sort of logic that makes such perfect sense, it’s rather annoying that it didn’t occur to me before. It’s not so much a regular word as it is an abbreviation. Look at the center of the word “association” and you get “soc”, the beginning of soccer.

As for the “er”? That’s down to good old traditional British slang. We will all have heard “rugby” being called “rugger”. While these days association football may more commonly be “footy”, it was once “soccer”. Ruger for rugby. Soccer for football. Which, when you think about it, makes sense.

Does this justify the use of the word “soccer” by Americans? While that’s down to personal preference, it’s interesting to know how soccer came to be soccer, given that’s how it’s referred to in such a large part of the world. Although it’s still unclear why Americans call their rugby substitute “American football”, considering the low foot-to-ball ratio. Then again, we’re probably in no position to criticize; after all, there aren’t many snooks seen when playing snooker, and very few cricks on the pitch in cricket.

Don’t be fooled, I’m generally useless with football knowledge. This is a pain when it comes to some of our crossword clues, where it’s handy to know that “footballer” is often Pele or Best, and “footballers” might be a cryptic indication for “FA”.

If you’d like to put your knowledge of just about any subject to the test, our puzzle website is full to the brim of brainteasers and linguistic novelty. What’s more, our puzzles will always use “football” rather than “soccer”, and words such as “colour” will always contain a “u”. At least, that’s the goal.


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