Naming the Beautiful Game

Apparently, it was “soccer” before it was “football”, in Der Spiegel. (Via Political Theory Daily Review).

Many football fanatics merely assume that the word “soccer” is just another marsupial American tradition — like 190-1 votes in the United Nations and men in suits driving Humvees through busy downtowns — inevitable in a country surrounded on two sides by oceans.

A certain self-righteousness also comes with the isolated territory. “Well,” the American in the pub said to the Liverpool fan, “my kind of football’s a little more rough-and-tumble, if you know what I mean. It’s not, you know, as polite as all this.” He waved at the TV above the bar. “But I can appreciate soccer. There’s something sort of pretty about it.”

But as much as the world likes to mock Americans for their ignorance of the beautiful game, football just isn’t the correct term for it in English. Soccer is right.

The world comes from 19th-century British slang for “Association Rules” football, a kicking and dribbling game that was distinct from “Rugby rules” football back when both versions were played by British schoolboys. The lads who preferred the rougher game popular in schools like Rugby and Eton seceded from Britain’s fledgling Football Association in 1871 to write their own rules, and soon players were calling the two sorts of football “rugger” and “soccer.”