Where the Word Soccer Comes From


Soccer ball and net

I have two soccer-playing daughters and one of them has an out-of-town soccer tournament this weekend. That means I’m writing from a hotel room. It also means I’m contemplating the word soccer and why we are the only country in the world that doesn’t call the game football. It certainly seems to be an appropriate name. I’ve thought it would make more sense to call soccer football, and what we call football something like tackleball or smashball. But no one’s asking me.

Still, I get my hackles up when people suggest that we Americans are stupid, or even somehow arrogant, for using the word soccer when everyone else says football.

The irony is that the English were the first to call the game soccer. While we were killing each other during our Civil War, the English were being far more productive, establishing the first official rules of football, and forming what came to be known as the Football Association.
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Association football became a common term when it was necessary to distinguish it from rugby football.

Soccer is a colloquial abbreviation of association, derived from the second syllable of the word. Some believe it was first shortened to assoccer” and later to the simpler soccer.

This part is only legendary, but many have it that a certain schoolboy named Charles Wereford-Brown was asked by some Oxford friends to join them in a game of “rugger” (rugby). He supposedly replied that he’d prefer a game of soccer. The name stuck, and there you have it.

What’s important to remember here is that soccer is not a crass Americanism. The word is part of the rich history of the game, and supposed aficionados who denounce it reveal only their own ignorance.


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About the Author

Brian WaskoBrian is the founder and president of WriteAtHome.com. One of his passions is to teach young people how to write better.View all posts by Brian Wasko

  1. Will

    There are three kinds of football: American, Canadian, and European. European football is called soccer here in the USA.

    • Brian Wasko
      Brian Wasko09-05-2012

      There’s more than that, Will. Ever seen Australian rules football? Rugby was also once known as football.

  2. Lisa Barfield
    Lisa Barfield09-04-2012

    Some friends and I (including a burly Scotsman) decided that American football should be called “shoulder face.” We were talking about creating a band by the same name. Thanks for the trivia!

    • Brian Wasko
      Brian Wasko09-04-2012

      Shoulder face definitely sounds more like a band than a sport. ­čÖé

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