“Soccer” and Other WOTY Candidates

I’ll get to the subject of this post in a minute, but first wanted to note that a couple of days ago, the blog had its three millionth page view. Luckily, I was there and ready to take a screen shot.

So hooray for us. Just goes to show that, for a committed and interested audience, there is no such thing as a too-narrow topic.

As long-time readers know, every year the estimable Lynne Murphy chooses two Words of the Year: an American word picked up in the U.K. and a NOOB. Last year’s U.S.-to-U.K. winner was the pronunciation of the title of the film Dune, and the U.K.-to-U.S. winner was “university,” which has been frequently discussed here. In her newsletter, Lynne listed this year’s nominees (as well as a link where people can express their preference or suggest other words). The U.K.-to-U.S. contenders:

  • Fit
  • Fiddly
  • “Soccer”
  • “Shrinkflation”

As the links indicate, I’ve covered the first two. “Fiddly,” more or less meaning “balky” and frequently appearing in the expression “fiddly bits,” is a full-fledged NOOB and I would support it as WOTY. “Fit”–meaning sexually attractive–on the other hand is still, in my experience, an outlier in the U.S.

“Soccer” might be surprising to some, as nowadays (especially during the World Cup), Americans are sometimes mocked or derided for using it to denote the game the British (and more or less the rest of the world) know as “football.” But is indeed a NOOB. It originated as a a reference to the Football Association, and to differentiate it from other forms of football, notably rugby. OED citations from the first, in 1873 (with the spelling “socker”), through 1935 are all from British sources.

“Soccer” did get picked up fairly quickly in America, seeming first by headline writers as a conveniently short word, as in this from the New York Times in 1906:

And of course, since then it’s become the American term of choice. To a slight extent, “football” has emerged as a NOOB to indicate the game with the round ball. It’s been slight because 99.9 percent of Americans will understand “football” to mean the game with the touchdowns and helmets. I don’t think there’s been a real life counterpart to the uber-pretentious Lisa Simpson, who refers to the home-grown sport as “American football.”

Next: “shrinkflation.”

9 thoughts on ““Soccer” and Other WOTY Candidates

  1. “Fiddly,” more or less meaning “balky”
    Ermm, noo, at least not here. Fiddly means something requiring a greater than usual degree of dexterity, knowledge or patience to accomplish, but not something that is awkward or uncooperative and for which the only solution is often, “percussive persuasion”, i.e. a big(ger) hammer and the creative use of the less polite parts of the language. For example, the correct fitting of wings to a small balsa model biplane is a fiddly job whereas removing a rusted in bolt from a car engine is quite definitely not fiddly. And congrats on the milestone.

  2. To me, balky would be something large causing an obstruction. Fiddly is something small and intricate.

    I remember when the BBC programme Balderdash and Piffle many years ago did a section on the origin of the word soccer, the presenter pointed out is now considered a bit upper class. Games such as rugby football and association football were very much the preserve of the British public schools, that is, posh schools in the middle of the nineteenth century. Soccer was public school slang. The first few teams to win the FA Cup were all old boys teams associated with public schools. But then the working men’s club movement led to working class teams taking up the game for whom soccer was considered too posh a term. That’s why the word is disliked by many British football fans.

    I grew up in the north of England where football is very popular, but for me it was always associated with standing around in a muddy field waiting to be hit by a lump of wet leather. I don’t follow it, but I do watch American football on television.

  3. Growing up in the late sixties and early seventies, in a British grammar school in the south, “soccer” was a common term and not considered exclusive, if memory serves.

  4. Oh, and, in all fairness, the term “American football” is commonly used to distinguish football, a game where feet are used to propel a ball, a spherical object, rather than the gridiron game of carr- ball seen in the US. (:-P)

    1. Yes, I forgot to mention that.

      Did you mean “carry-ball”. Also to be fair, there is a lot of throwing going on in American football. The forward pass, disallowed in rugby, is permitted if the ball hasn’t crossed the line of scrimmage.

      And there is kicking – the punt, the field goal and the point after are all kicked. There are specialist players whose sole job is to kick when required.

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