The One Bizarre Reason the Rest of the World Hates the Word "Soccer"

The One Bizarre Reason the Rest of the World Hates the Word "Soccer"

The news: Every time the World Cup rolls around, the rest of the world likes to remind Americans that the sport is called football, not soccer. And while the United States' usage of soccer may seem as strange as its reliance on the imperial system instead of metric units, some of the hate might be unwarranted.

A recent University of Michigan study traced the popularity of both terms for the sport and found that despite the prevalence of the word soccer in England between the 1960s and the 1980s, a lot of people consider it a uniquely American term and respond to it with "anger and frustration."

Then it gets heavy: "Many seek to associate American use of the word with alleged American imperialism and cultural hegemony," wrote Professor Stefan Szymanski.

But those in the know might be familiar with the English roots of the word soccer, or the fact that there are other countries in the world that prefer that term over football:


Image Credit: Reddit

Why the hate? There is some speculation that there are elitist undertones to the word soccer; after all, it was invented by boys' clubs at English boarding schools. But Szymanski believes that a lot of the aversion to the word comes from a general dislike of the U.S. 

"In the 1980s you start to hear the argument that soccer is an American word, as distinct from the British football," Szymanski said. "It is hard to think of any explanation for the decline other than the rising popularity of the word soccer in the U.S."

This was also the time that the U.S. became the world's only geopolitical superpower, sweeping aside the Soviet Union in the Cold War. Over the next few decades, leading to today, the U.S. increasingly sought to extend it's will throughout the world, in countries including Iraq, Afghanistan, and Somalia. Adventurism and American influence on the rise, the word "soccer" on the decline — correlation?

But that doesn't mean the U.S. will give into international pressure any time soon. "Americans will continue to call the game soccer whatever anyone else says, not out of perversity but out of the need to distinguish it from America's favorite game, football," Szymanski added. "The rest of us can continue to get mad about it if we want, but it might [be] more sensible to get over it and recognize that our favorite game can just as easily be called soccer as football."

Translation: haters gonna hate, and Americans are going to stick with soccer — at least for the time being.

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Eileen Shim

Eileen is a writer living in New York. She studied comparative literature and international studies at Yale University, and enjoys writing about the intersection of culture and politics.

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