Why Do Americans Call Football Soccer?



The U.S. plays Germany today in an important World Cup match. That means I’ll be out of commission this afternoon watching the game.  It also means I’m contemplating the word soccer and why we seem to be 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.

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 sometime in the 1800’s 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. I like that story. I think I’ll go with 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 only reveal 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. Mark

    American “football” has little to do with the feet. They just carry the ball most of the time. It should be called Carryball… or just Rugby.

    Logically speaking, with Football, people mainly just use their feet to move the ball around most of the time. From a purely logical standpoint, it is rightfully called Football, not “soccer”. Although I’m sure “soccer” can be used as a nickname by Westerners, it’s not globally accepted and should only be used as a nickname, not the official name, as that is Football.

    • Mark

      But I don’t think the British even call it ‘soccer’, which is where supposedly the word ‘soccer’ originated. So the question is why did Americans suddenly start referring to it as soccer?

      • Brian Wasko
        Brian Wasko06-30-2014

        I have no idea if it was “sudden” or not. It’s unlikely it was sudden. I would guess that the popularity of American football eventually resulted in European football coming to be known as soccer to differentiate it. But that’s just a guess.

    • Brian Wasko
      Brian Wasko06-30-2014

      I agree that “football” is the more logical name (pretty sure I mentioned that in the article). But logic doesn’t often have much to do with the names we give things.

      For the record, American football does involve some kicking of the ball, though carrying it and throwing it are more common.

  2. Alex

    Now you are revealing your own ignorance. No one ever said Americans INVENTED the term ‘soccer’. But you are the most ignorant people in the world when it comes to knowing what the sport is really called. The term ‘soccer’ was a nickname, and never meant to be the name of the sport. No Brit has ever used that term. Ever. Except maybe to make fun of Americans.

    Besides, most Americans are even completely ignorant of their own sport. Where do you think the term ‘football’ comes from for a sport that doesn’t use the feet? It was stolen. Plain and simple. Almost simultaneously, in the USA and UK, the sport of football was changed, they decided to start picking up the ball. Eventually new sports emerged. But, in the UK they were smart enough to come up with a new name, Rugby, where as in the ignorant USA, they kept the same name. A name which makes absolutely no sense, much like Americans.

    You don’t just steal another sports name and then try to force the rest of the world to call it something different…unless you are an arrogant American, of course.

    It is a crass Americanism in that you use it as if it’s the real name of the sport, as it isn’t. And, it’s one of the main reasons why the world roots against you at every world cup. Every time you use the wrong name, the whole world just laughs at you. But Americans don’t care, because they think they are the center of the universe.

    • Brian Wasko
      Brian Wasko06-30-2014

      We should all be humble and gracious like you, I guess, Alex.

      This American doesn’t care because it’s a word. A word that names a game. I find your outrage amusing.

    • Brian Wasko
      Brian Wasko06-30-2014

      Anyway, no hard feelings, Alex. Good luck to England in the Round of 16. Oh, wait. Never mind.

    • Eric Vinyl
      Eric Vinyl03-30-2015


      It’s harder to link to YouTube comments now, but here’s one from SjimmyDJ I ran across just recently http://www.youtube.com/comment?lc=VE-GFwLlnHDNia4hy9kWF2KfLO0jqz7wIvVTE4XRUQQ This one only happened to be at the front of my mind, but similiar sentiments are by no means uncommon or hard to find. Many people do, in fact, think Americans made up the word “soccer” after appropriating the name of “real” football for their own sport.

      Rugby is called simply “football” in many regions, and has more of a right to be called that than soccer – Rugby School’s rules are actually older than the FA! Other British colonies had their own football games, of course, as well, Canadian (which spawned the American), Aussie-rules, etc. In Southern Africa, despite being the most popular sport, the normal name for the game is also “soccer” in English.

      I suppose shows like Soccer AM and Soccer Saturday are simply named like that as one giant piss-take at the yanks. Hilarious! though a shame as the vast, vast majority of Americans have never even heard of these programmes, and likely never, ever will. And why were the popular football sticker albums called “Soccer Stars” in the ’60s when soccer was barely a blip on America’s rader? Why did legendary Man Utd manager Sir Matt Busby call his biography “Soccer at the Top” when he never played in America? Oh, well, never hurts to have a little go at them, I guess.

      It’s a shame Americans are so arrogant and ignorant, lacking much of a perspective beyond their own borders.

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