Soccer versus soccer: why do Americans call this sport different?

Stupid Americans, always doing things differently – not using the metric system, measuring temperatures in Fahrenheit, mostly driving automatic cars, calling football football. Well, my fellow Americans…I have good news for you. For at least one of these things, we can blame the British.

While most people refer to the sport as football, the name football, which Americans use, came directly from Britain around 200 years ago. Amazingly, it was actually still used interchangeably with football well into the 20th century. It didn’t start changing exclusively to football until around 1980, and it’s believed that the British only really stopped using ‘soccer’ because of its American background. So they invented it. We kept it. And they abandoned it because we kept it.

Where does the word “soccer” come from?

Several games involving a ball, be it hitting, kicking, throwing, etc., were often referred to as different forms of “football” in the 1800s. Football as we know it today oday became an official sport in 1863, when several English schools and clubs came together and formed the Football Association to establish a set of standard rules. Rugby was then known as “rugby football”, so the two had to be distinguished. Thereby, it became known as “Association Football” in England.

So how did it go from association football to football? The story is very similar to how pets get their nicknames. They start out as Emmitt Smith Jr., then it becomes Smitty, then Smitten Kitten… you know what I mean. Association football is a long word, and people don’t like it. It’s a lot of effort. So British players started calling it “assoc”, which turned into “assoccer”, and eventually “soccer” or “soccer football”.

We know why the British stopped using the name football. But why did the Americans keep it? In America, other sports began to emerge, one of which adopted the name football (from rugby football) and was the most popular sport in the country. So to distinguish football stuck for sport with the ball you kick, and football stuck for sport with the ball you throw.

Where does the word “soccer” come from?

This begs the question… where does the name come from? Soccer come then? The British like to say that what the Americans call football and they call American football or American football, makes no sense because it is mainly played with the hands. Should we then call it handball? Oh wait, that one is taken too. Then they argue that it should be called a hand egg because the shape isn’t your typical round ball shape. It didn’t catch on – at least not in America. (Fun fact: the people who invented the oval shape of the rugby ball and football were both European!) Rugby, soccer, and American football all evolved from the same sport, which was originally a sport that involved a bit more kicking.

Ok, so why didn’t he switch from rugby football to American rugby, instead of just football? This I cannot answer. However, a could argue that we call it football because of the length of the ball, which is about a foot. We measure using the imperial system, remember? (Which also started in Britain, but I digress.)

In summary:

Rugby has become “rugby” in England.

Association football has become “soccer” in England.

Rugby football arrived in the United States and evolved into another version of the game. This game became “soccer” in the United States and rugby became “rugby”.

Football came to the United States and remained “football”.

Football and soccer were used interchangeably in England until they realized they didn’t want to be associated with Americans and started calling it exclusively “soccer”.

The British are now mocking the Americans for using football.

Hope this clarifies things for you if you have ever wondered where this big difference between football and soccer came from.