This Is Why North Americans Say “Soccer” Instead of “Football”

You're not going to believe who turned us onto this phraseology.

Soccer football on green grass field, Top viewButterfly Hunter/Shutterstock

The 90-minute long game involves two goals, black and white checkered balls, goalies, and no hand use. This sport, of course, is soccer—or football, as the majority of the rest of the world says. It’s confusing that some countries call this sport “football” while Americans and Canadians say “soccer,” but apparently the British are mostly to blame. (Every Canadian should know these British words and phrases.)

The name confusion is actually thanks to British universities in the early 1800s who tried standardizing various sports games that had different rules and regulations to differentiate between them, according to a paper by Stefan Szymanski, a professor of sports economics at the University of Michigan.

Rugby, formerly known as “rugby football” or “rugger,” is a version of “football” where you can use your hands. Soccer, originally “association football” or “asoccer,” is the traditional version of “football” where people don’t use their hands. People in England started shortening the names by dropping the “association” part of the phrase as well as the “a” in “asoccer,” per Szymanski’s paper. If your head hurts from thinking about this, prepare to have your mind blown by these things you probably never thought about—until just now.

Now comes the complication: in 1869, Rutgers and Princeton colleges held the first traditional, recorded, football game using a unique combination of rules from both rugby and soccer, creating what we know as “American football” and what other countries refer to as “gridiron.” Thanks to the popularity of American football, soccer players in America clung to “soccer” to help differentiate themselves, according to the Encyclopedia Britannica.

If the nickname “soccer” stuck in Britain, and if Americans came up with a better nickname for American football, there would be much less confusion. So why did the “football” short version of “association football” become more popular than “soccer” in England anyway? Originally, American influence on Britain during World War II made “soccer” the popular term in England before the 1980s, the Atlantic reports. Once the sport became more popular in the United States around that time, the British stopped using “soccer.” (Possibly because of the American connotations, although it’s still not entirely clear.) Szymanski’s paper claims it could be thanks to American and British news outlets pushing either term in each country.

Next, check out these 20 things most of us think are the same—but aren’t.

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