Jaywalking: Name game

Lunchtime on the farm has taken on a new look recently.

Typically, my father and I congregate around noon for about a half-hour break to eat a sandwich and some fresh vegetables while watching the noontime newscast. But since the start of the World Cup about three weeks ago, we have also spent the break watching some of the games that begin at noon.

I’ve got to give my father credit. All you hear from many people over the age of 50 is soccer disdain. They don’t get it, it’s too slow, too much diving. The list goes on and on. I could spend time defending the sport, such as the fact that baseball is slower, there is diving in other sports (P.K. Subban and the Montreal Canadiens come to mind), but I’d be wasting my time. If you don’t enjoy the World Cup, I’m cool with that. Personally, I’ve been watching when I can and have enjoyed it. My father, too, has enjoyed watching with me. He does like to turn on the spanish broadcast when goals are scored because those announcers know how to call a goal. Try it if you watch a game and like a good “Goooaaaalll” cheer.

My father will also ask questions from time to time, and having grown up playing the sport and going on to officiate for a few years before I took this job, I understand it pretty well and have been able to answer his questions. That is until this past week.

“Why do we call it soccer in America when everyone else calls it football?” he asked.

I had no idea. My guess was that because we already have a sport called football (known to other countries as “American football”) and we needed a word for this other sport. Somewhere someone in this country came up with the word soccer, perhaps because players wear those high socks over their shin guards.

“Looks like you just gave me next week’s column,” I told him.

Turns out, I was way off. Thankfully, University of Michigan professor of sport management Stefan Szymanski recently co-authored a paper called “Soccernomics,” which highlighted where the word soccer came from. And when researching this topic, that paper was cited in multiple stories that have appeared in publications throughout the country, including a recent article in the New York Times.

The word soccer is not American at all. Usage of the word actually began in Britian, but to understand it, we may have to actually go a bit further back. References to “football” actually date as far back to 1004 B.C. and many of these sports had similar rules. On Oct. 26, 1863, the first meeting of the Football Association (known today at the FA) took place to put into place a universal set of rules to govern the sport. This was done because, prior to that, rules would be derived locally in Britain, but as students moved on to attend universities, these rules could not always be agreed upon, since students from different areas played by different rules. On that date, the sport known as Association Football came to be. The word “Association” was used because there was at same time another popular sport in Britian known as rugby football, which, of course, is known today as rugby.

It’s believed that the word soccer was first used at Oxford or Cambridge when the word “Association” was shortened. Also, British students at that time used to put an “er” diminutive on nicknames. For instance, rugby was known as “rugger,” and Association was shortened to Assocer, before being trimmed even further to just soccer. According to some articles I read, the story went that a Brit student by the name of Charles Wredford Brown, an Oxford student, was asked if he wanted to play a game of rugger and he responded that he preferred soccer, thus the creation.

So how did the word get over here. Well, according to research done by the New York Times, the newspaper began using the words “soccer” and “socker” when writing about the sport in 1905 and 1906. Because the United States already had a sport called football over here that is vastly different from soccer, the newspaper needed another word for the game, so it picked up the nickname that was being widely used in England. The Times also used “association football” and “English football” to describe the sport at that time, but within 10 years, the word soccer was used exclusively by the newspaper.

As for why the Brits stopped using the word, it actually stemmed from anti-American sentiment. According to the Szymanski paper, the word soccer was still widely used in England right alongside with football until sometime in the 1970s or 1980s. At that point, soccer was becoming much more popular in the United States, including the creation of the shortlived North American Soccer League. That was apparently threatening to the English, and caused them to go on violent rants about how obnoxious America is and their tendency to do things differently from everyone else and then claim its superiority.

So whether you like the sport or not, now you know why we call it soccer.

Jason Butynski is a Greenfield native and Recorder sportswriter. His email address is jbutynski@recorder.com.

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