Soccer, unfortunately, is a very British word

Footballer Keira Walsh of England is challenged by Andi Sullivan of United States during the Women's International Friendly match between England and USA at Wembley Stadium on October 07, 2022 in London, England - David Rogers/Getty Images
Footballer Keira Walsh of England is challenged by Andi Sullivan of United States during the Women's International Friendly match between England and USA at Wembley Stadium on October 07, 2022 in London, England - David Rogers/Getty Images

I am not a big fan of the word “soccer”. Soccer mom is what comes to mind whenever I say or think of the word, mimicking the sheer American nature of the word. It’s harsh and inelegant.

I'm a secret American, passport and all, born in the USA before my parents brought me home to England, making sure I never even picked up a hint of the accent. “American by birth, Texan by the grace of god,” they chuckled every time my birthplace came up in conversation, with a mock Southern accent to match. I feel justified in my dislike of the word soccer, but unfortunately, us Brits have to take credit for the word's very existence.

Recently our Puzzles Editor, Chris Lancaster, wrote a newsletter about what words get our goats, one his most hated terms being the word “goat” itself: not just the animal, but in its sense as describing anyone touted as the greatest of all time in their chosen vocation. Having thrown the topic out to readers, you replied in your hundreds with your most-loathed words.

One of the more common gripes among the conversation was with Americanisms, which perhaps isn’t surprising given that the view among many this side of the Atlantic is that the first decision made by the nascent US government after declaring independence was, quite ridiculously, to remove the letter “U” from a large number of words. Although very few readers called out the word “soccer” as their pet hate, it comes to mind as one of the biggest differences we have with the Americans in our language.

Football players jump to block a free kick during the Sky Bet League One between Milton Keynes Dons and Shrewsbury Town at Stadium mk on January 24, 2023 in Milton Keynes, United Kingdom - Matthew Ashton - AMA/Getty Images
Football players jump to block a free kick during the Sky Bet League One between Milton Keynes Dons and Shrewsbury Town at Stadium mk on January 24, 2023 in Milton Keynes, United Kingdom - Matthew Ashton - AMA/Getty Images

I’ve more than once in my life spoken to an American where the conversation turns to football. Not the version with dozens of armour-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 emphasise that they know the alternative word for the sport, reassuring me that they’ve heard of Manchester United and “Tott-ing-ham” 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 it didn’t occur to me before. It’s not so much a regular word as it is an abbreviation. Look at the centre 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”. Rugger 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 parts 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 criticise; 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 puzzles 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.

Are you a fan of the word soccer? What other Americanisms grind your gears? Join the conversation in the comments section below