Football vs. Soccer.

As an American, I think I’m fairly typical in not paying much attention to soccer except when the World Cup comes around every four years, at which point I root mainly for Argentina, where I went to high school — I’m pleased, of course, when the U.S. wins, but in men’s soccer they have little hope of winning it all, and if I want to root for a hopeless cause I’ll stick with my Mets (currently battling it out for last place in the NL East). I’m certainly typical in calling it “soccer” rather than “football.” I’ve always been a little puzzled by the vitriol people who are not Americans can exhibit over this terminological difference, vitriol they do not usually expend over (say) “trunk” vs. “boot” or “eggplant” vs. “aubergine.” After all, it doesn’t seem to bother anyone that the Italians call it calcio, and the word “soccer” was, after all, created by Brits. At any rate, I was pleased to discover that Stefan Szymanski, a University of Michigan professor, has gone into the history of the difference in a paper (pdf) called “It’s Football not Soccer,” and I’m posting it to celebrate the start of the 2014 Cup; you can also read a press release about it, or watch a short video in which he summarizes the main points.

One of the things I learned from him that most surprised me was that “soccer” was quite popular in the U.K. up until the 1980s (though it never rivaled “football”); here’s a telling paragraph:

Football biographies and autobiographies are particularly interesting in this respect. Famous personalities are likely to be sensitive to the choice of name, given the intense scrutiny of the lives and actions of these individuals. Given the antipathy to the word “soccer” in the UK today, it might surprise many people to know that many of the most famous personalities of the 1960s and 70s used the word “soccer” in their autobiography. Thus Sir Matt Busby, the celebrated manager of Manchester United in the 1950s and 60s entitled his autobiography “Soccer at the top”. One biography of George Best, the most famous player of the era, was titled “George Best: the inside story of soccer’s superstar”. Jimmy Hill, one of the most influential figures in the development of English football entitled his autobiography as a player “Striking for Soccer” in 1961, while the autobiography of John Charles, a great player of the 1950s was titled “King of Soccer”.

From his conclusion:

The main purpose of this article has been to illustrate the trends in usage. It is possible to offer some speculations in explanation of these trends. One key difference in the usage of “soccer” in Britain and the US seems to have to do with social status. In Britain the word seems carried both an elitist connotation – the language of the ruling class – and an air of informality. It was, possibly, just a little too colloquial in the first half of the twentieth century for use in high-brow newspapers such as The Times of London or to be used in the title of a book. In the US it seems to have had a more democratic flavor – everyone used it – and more easily shifted from a colloquialism to a proper name because of the utility of distinguishing it from the other “football”.

There are lots of good details in the paper, which I commend to your attention. If you have any interest in Russian soccer/futbol, I also recommend Robert Edelman’s Spartak Moscow: A History of the People’s Team in the Workers’ State, which I’m reading with great enjoyment; it’s teaching me a great deal about the history of working-class Moscow (especially the Presnya district from which Spartak grew) as well as that of the soccer team whose long rivalry with Dinamo is comparable to those of Real Madrid with Barcelona and Celtic with Rangers. Anyway, my apologies to those who are already fed up with all things Cup-related; regular non-sports-related programming will resume tomorrow!

Update. I just got a timely delivery from Amazon, the copy of David Goldblatt’s The Ball is Round: A Global History of Soccer I ordered after realizing from the Edelman book that I needed to read it. Looks great, and will be perfect reading over the next month!

Comments

  1. Growing up in Ireland we always called it soccer, partly to distinguish it from Gaelic football, which we called football. Nowadays football could mean either, for me, and context tends to disambiguate. Or soccer becomes footie.
    I suspect a lot of anti-soccer sentiment is just tedious old anti-Americanism, or anti-Americanismism. Thanks for the links, which I’ve downloaded for later. (There’s a match on.)

  2. How did “association” lose its [ʃ] sound upon the hypothesized truncation? Is it plausible? The whole story has a subtle flavor of folk etymology, with the early XXth c. amateur linguists first trying to find a genesis story of the word which was commonly spelled “socker” in the earliest printed sources, then changing its spelling to accommodate the etymological hypothesis? Also, have there been an influx of American mass-culture terms into UK English after WWII (when the word “soccer” seemed to have gained – transient – acceptance in the UK)

  3. David Eddyshaw says:

    “Soccer” is the antonym of “rugger.”

    I never thought about it before, but it probably is true that it started out as a distinctly upper-class term, probably mostly among those to whom the word “football” (“footer” , even) would in fact immediately have suggested Rugby football. There are quite a series of upper-class slang terms with a similar structure. Many an ageing Champaigne socialist may yet be overheard calling the “New Statesman” the New Staggers.

    The corny saying that Rugby is a hooligan’s game played by gentlemen while Soccer is a gentlemen’s game played by hooligans does actually correctly intimate that the sociology of the two games has been quite complex in the UK, the matter being further entangled by the fact that there are two different sorts of Rugby (Union and League) with quite different auras in the matter of class; while in Wales, never what you would call a land of upper-class privately educated elitism, Rugby Union is the people’s game.

  4. BTW: An 1885 source in Oxford repeatedly calls the game “Socker” contrary to the assertions (cited in the PDF) that it was a misspelling only the gullible Americans could make.

  5. David Eddyshaw says:

    @Dmitri:

    I don’t think there’s really any question of the origin of “soccer” from “association” being a folk etymology. I’ve always used it conscious of its origin and I think that’s pretty usual.

    The formation is not isolated – it’s characteristic of a very dated (but not quite dead) upper class slang construction which has been productive even in nonce-formations. “Rugger” for Rugby football is a product of the same process, as for example is the nickname “Blowers” bestowed on the Old Etonian cricket commentator Henry Blofeld.

    It is vanishingly unlikely that the term “soccer” came to the UK from the USA. Apart from the fact that its origin actual is quite transparent taking into account this background, that would be like Russians borrowing our word for cabbage soup. If we had one.

  6. David Eddyshaw says:

    Dmitry, I mean. Not Dmitri. Sorry. Well, I did only get 95% in that spelling thing Hat linked to the other day …

  7. There’s a match on.

    And what a match! Netherlands 5, Spain 1, apparently the worst loss ever suffered by a reigning champion.

    The whole story has a subtle flavor of folk etymology,

    I agree with David Eddyshaw: I don’t think that’s possible. Every dictionary has essentially the same etymology as the OED (which doesn’t really fall for folk etymologies): “Etymology: < Assoc., short for Association. Compare rugger n.2.”

  8. I remember reading (in Wodehouse, perhaps?) of the Pragger-Wagger ‘Prince of Wales’ and the wagger-pagger-bagger ‘wastepaper basket’. Of course, all these hypocoristics are non-rhotic.

  9. David Eddyshaw says:

    Ah. The old Wikkers comes up trumps:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Oxford_%22-er%22

  10. The old 14th edition of the Encyclopaedia Britannica has an excellent article on the American game, entitled “American Rugby”. (Their article on cricket, by contrast, assumes you already know all about it, and is worthless to an American audience.)

    The old Wikkers comes up trumps

    Ah. Evidently not Wodehouse, then. (“Mogart? Then Dend not Dend!” — Jack Chalker, And The Devil Will Drag You Under)

  11. des von bladet says:

    “Celtic” are a foopball team in Glasgow, Scotland. “Celtics”, I am given to understand, is the Boston bouncyball franchise.

    The Netherlands is enraptured, enthralled and, if I am anything to go by, inebriated.

    (I played rugby at school, but we weren’t posh enough to call it football.)

  12. The old Wikkers
    thanks, after seeing all these hard g’s, and even one more hard ‘k’ (ekkers ~~ exercise), it’s a bit easier to imagine the depth of transformation of the word “association”. Although it still remains the wildest and most improbable of all these Oxford -er transformations, phonetically.

    like Russians borrowing our word for cabbage soup. If we had one.
    :)
    No, I was thinking more along the lines of an originally British, but disused word, gradually becoming dialectal or obsolete, but then coming back to the mainstream with the mass movements of people who spoke the dialect. (As opposed to the study’s assumption that the word “soccer” must have remained in constant use in the UK from the 1880s through the 1940s, but couldn’t appear widely in print until ca. 1950 for self-censorship kind of reasons)

  13. “Celtic” are a foopball team in Glasgow, Scotland. “Celtics”, I am given to understand, is the Boston bouncyball franchise.

    Woops! A typical Yank blunder, which I have now corrected. Thanks, and my congratulations to your nederlands drinking buddies.

  14. David Eddyshaw says:

    I see that the basketball people share the Glaswegian custom of pronouncing the initial C- as S-; and judging by the logo, the same specialized sense of “Celtic” as “Irish.” (As an inhibernian Celt [or possibly Kelt] I feel that my human rights have probably been infringed by this in some way, and will be demanding redress. They’ll find it’s not just Washington “football” teams that can get into trouble with us indigenous peoples for insensitivity.)

  15. Perhaps one of the reasons that soccer evokes such a negative reaction to foreign ears beyond aubergine/eggplant or trunk/boot is that soccer also features the very jarring American lowering of /ɒ/ to /a/ and is thus doubly a sign of provinciality.

  16. wildest and most improbable

    Surely because it is derived not from the word association but from its written abbreviation Assoc.. Parallel cases are the divide in academia between those who call sociology “sosh” and those who call it “sock”, and in programming between those who speak of a character (abbreviated char) as a “care” and those who call it (as I do) a “charr”.

    inhibernian Celt

    Both the Celtic Congress (cultural) and its offspring the Celtic League (political) were in fact founded in Wales. Nonetheless, they seem to be quite open-handed folks, treating Ireland, Scotland, Wales, Brittany, Cornwall, and Man and their respective peoples as equals. (Galicia does not count, they say, because it has not spoken a Celtic language within historic times.) The latter also has multinational branches in the U.S. and England as well as a branch in Welsh Patagonia and a former branch in Cape Breton Island. There is occasional talk of an Australian branch as well.

  17. GeorgeW says:

    “How did “association” lose its [ʃ] sound upon the hypothesized truncation?”

    I’m with you and find this a strange clipping (which, by the way, is a foul in American football).

    a-sos-iɛiʃʌn > sɑs > sɑk > sɑk-eɾ ? Hmm.

  18. Galicia does not count

    Do you mean Galicia, Galicia, or Galicia?

  19. Are there really people who would say “assosh” if reading a passage like “… except as such opportunity is afforded for aid to the Am. Miss. Assoc., we feel that we may be constrained to…”?

    Would they also say “Mish” (for “Missionary”)? Would “Am.” have a schwa?

    (Not scornful, genuinely curious!)

  20. The one in Spain.

  21. David Eddyshaw says:

    As Matt implies, these truncations are often seem based on abbreviations of written rather than spoken forms, hardly surprising in the UK where many of us are literate to a certain extent. Moreover though systematic to some degree they fall into a very specialised category of deliberate linguistic play, not really quite the same as “clippings” in general.

    I don’t think there’s really any mystery. The discussion reminds me a bit of reading Chomsky and Halle’s book on the Sound Pattern of English, where they perform this wonderful feat of reconstructing abstract underlying forms to account for different surface phonetic patterns like “nation” vs “national” without ever doing anything so methodologically shocking as mentioning the written forms. While it did show me that our traditional spelling system is perhaps not quite as devil-spawned as the Bernard Shaws of this world would have you believe, as an exercise in sustained ignoring of room-elephants I don’t think I’ve ever seen it quite equalled.

    Galicia:

    Apparently the Eastern European Galicia may possibly also owe its name to an old Celtic element, though this seems a good deal more speculative than the case of Galatia in Asia Minor where it seems to be generally accepted. Personally I’m fine with admitting Turks to the Celtic League.

    Mind you, nobody here will need to be reminded that there is no inevitable connection between all these Celtic groups which once spread right across Europe and the group of languages now called Celtic. Edward Sapir reckoned that the modern Bavarians were probably the most authentic representatives of the old European Celts as far as genetic descent goes, rather than linguistic affiliation.

  22. Matt,

    I’m American, & I would definitely pronounce “Am. Miss. Assoc.” as /æm mɪs əsoʊʃ/

    But I have no idea why I would pronounce the abbreviations more or less as written except for “Assoc.”

  23. J.W. Brewer says:

    I have in my possession a copy of the second printing of “A Scientific and Practical Treatise on American Football for Schools and Colleges,” co-authored by the legendary Amos Alonzo Stagg with the not-quite-so-legendary (although he does have a wikipedia page . . .) Henry L. Williams, with an inscription on the flyleaf suggesting it was acquired by one of my great-grandfathers in February 1895. There are a few uses of the fuller name “American football” in the text, but in general it just says “football” and does not feel the need to distinguish the game under discussion from any similarly-named rivals, including association football. Stuck inside is a little pamphlet with a set of (note the different spelling) “Foot Ball Rules” from 1896 (the game was still groping toward full national standardization but these were a set of consensus rules agreed on that year by five of the universities now in the Ivy League).

  24. As an American, I think I’m fairly typical in not paying much attention to soccer except when the World Cup comes around every four years,

    Typical of over 40s. Soccer seems to be a trendy sport for the younger generations, at least in the Northeast. Boston or New York bars actually fill up for Premier League matches these days, and it’s not just Irish immigrants any more. It is also the young 20-something Americans who can be most obnoxious about pointedly calling the game “football.”

  25. Athel Cornish-Bowden says:

    When I was at my primary school (1951-1956) the word “soccer” was commonplace and I’m pretty sure no one regarded it as an import from the USA.

  26. GeorgeW says:

    “. . . these truncations are often seem based on abbreviations of written rather than spoken forms, . . .”

    assoc. (written) > sos (spoken) > sɑk > sɑk-eɾ? Count me skeptical.

    Maybe it is: assoc. (written) > soc. (written) /sɑk (spoken) > sɑk-eɾ (spoken). If so, the second stage should be attested.

  27. I’m American, & I would definitely pronounce “Am. Miss. Assoc.” as /æm mɪs əsoʊʃ/

    Same here, and I don’t know why either.

    Count me skeptical.

    If you’re just talking about the details of the derivation you suggesteed, you may well be skeptical, since it’s very implausible. I hope you’re not skeptical about the etymology itself (< Assoc), since there’s no doubt about its validity. There was, of course, never any “sos (spoken)”; the abbreviation Assoc looks like it could be pronounced “a sock,” and the slang term was based on that. But if the Wikipedia article linked above, and examples like ekkers < exercise, didn’t convince you, I guess nothing will.

  28. Of course, there was never any “soc. (written)” either; why would there be?

  29. I’ve always been a little puzzled by the vitriol people who are not Americans can exhibit over this terminological difference, vitriol they do not usually expend over (say) “trunk” vs. “boot” or “eggplant” vs. “aubergine.”

    I imagine that if England were full of obsessive aubergine fans, divided into clubs supporting rivalrous cultivars, and AmE applied the term “aubergine” to a kind of pumpkin, then “eggplant” would come in for more vitriol.

  30. True, and what an interesting world that would be!

  31. I think all people wondering about assoc.->soccer history are forgetting that the hypothesis is that in Oxbridge they liked to add ‘-er’ to form nouns. So the question is not how they pronounced “assoc”, but “assocer”. And by the way, is it really implausible that the word made asosher->soker transition (I use loose phonetic spelling)?

  32. Sir JCass says:

    I think the outrage comes more from the USA daring to call its sport “football” without using the modifier “American”, thereby failing to acknowledge that association football is the original and best form of the sport and the only one worthy of being called “football” tout court. The use of the alternative “soccer” is hated because it’s a strong indication the speaker subscribes to – or tolerates – this nefarious American heresy. The UN should force the Yanks to call soccer “football” and their own sport “American football”.

    This is probably part of a wider disparagement of American sports (baseball is just a glorified version of the British girls’ game rounders; the World Series isn’t really international etc.).

    Do people get this het up about the use of the word “muffin” unmodified by “English” or “American”? Let’s hope not.

  33. And by the way, is it really implausible that the word made asosher->soker transition (I use loose phonetic spelling)?

    Yes, extraordinarily implausible. It is obvious that the slang term was based on the written form Assoc, pronounced “a sock.”

  34. My favourite idiotic objection to the use of soccer over football is that football makes sense as a word, because there’s a ball that’s kicked by a foot.

    Which should mean that every other language should call the game something other than football. On this, Greek has it right with ποδόσφαιρο, a straight calque of football, or, more accurately, footsphere.

    Actually, footsphere is a much cooler name than football. Let’s all call it footsphere!

  35. Let’s play some podospheron!

  36. David Eddyshaw says:

    Soc/sock:

    When I was a student, the student French Society was almost always called Frogsoc by its members, the German Society similarly Krautsoc (it was a simpler age) with final -ock.

    I think that was however by more or less conscious analogy with Ingsoc, as in Orwell (yet another Etonian, of course.)

    However, there’s hardly a shortage of written abbrevations and even acronyms which are spoken as written. NATO, UNESCO, crim con (for older listeners …)

    The podosphere seems to be abuzz with news from Brazil.

  37. Not the same because it’s about vowels, but I’m reminded of the following: A vacation can be a vac in England, right? As in “the long vac”? Is that a specifically Oxbridge thing? I have always assumed that it’s pronounced “vack”, but I don’t know — maybe it’s more like the first syllable of “vacation”. Likewise in, say, Dorothy L. Sayers’s fiction there are newspaper reporters who say “par” for paragraph? Is it pronounced like the usual word “par”, or like the first syllable of “paragraph”?

  38. David Eddyshaw says:

    Vac is certainly pronounced vack. I’ve never really thought of it as an Oxbridgism, but I don’t think I’ve ever encountered it in any context other than university vacations, anyhow, and almost always in “long vac.” It strikes me as a bit precious, like saying “varsity.” I’m not sure I’d even recognise it reliably in speech, outside that context. It’s practically a bound morpheme for me.

    Par is pronounced like the golf accomplishment. I think a non-rhotic speaker would have some difficulty doing anything else.

  39. des von bladet says:

    Dutch for “football” is “voetbal”. Dus…

  40. @Athel Cornish-Bowden: “When I was at my primary school (1951-1956) the word “soccer” was commonplace”

    Same here (at primary school 1961-67); I recall a scurrilous school rhyme about “Georgie Best, soccer star”.

    I must be getting old, because I was unaware of any usage shift in the UK; ther term “soccer” is still widespread in sports journalism. For instance: “Thousands of soccer fans took charge of their TV remotes as the World Cup kicked off in Brazil on Thursday night” – Laura Connor, Daily Mirror, June 14, 2014

    The NewsBank stats for UK/Irish newspaper occurrences are interesting:

    1982 (82), 1983 (40), 1984 (49), 1985 (270), 1986 (342), 1987 (264), 1988 (438), 1989 (390), 1990 (543), 1991 (370), 1992 (1,516), 1993 (2,708), 1994 (3,697), 1995 (4,108), 1996 (7,213), 1997 (9,088), 1998 (13,387), 1999 (18,497), 2000 (23,720), 2001 (25,177), 2002 (29,198), 2003 (23,520), 2004 (21,825), 2005 (20,899), 2006 (22,114), 2007 (20,825), 2008 (47,073), 2009 (52,597), 2010 (52,740), 2011 (32,346), 2012 (14,993), 2013 (14,051).

  41. Par is pronounced like the golf accomplishment. I think a non-rhotic speaker would have some difficulty doing anything else.

    It’s not about being rhotic or non-rhotic, it’s about what vowel you use for the first syllable of paragraph. If it’s TRAP, then yes, it’s very difficult, because that vowel doesn’t occur finally in any normal words (excepting things like what a sheep says). But if you use SQUARE because you have the Mary-merry-marry merger, which changes TRAP + /r/ and DRESS + /r/ to SQUARE, then “pair” is a plausible pronunciation of the abbreviation.

  42. John, let’s say that I do have that merger. I still find “pair” to be a somewhat implausible pronunciation of the abbreviation “par” (or, as I have sometimes seen it, “par.”), because that vowel does not occur in any other words spelled “-ar”.

    Of course, I also find “mike” to be an implausible pronunciation of “mic”. Or rather I find “mic” to be an implausible spelling of the usual abbreviation for “microphone”.

  43. By the same token, Empty, soc. shouldn’t be pronounced “sosh”, but many people do pronounce it so. When we have a word that’s not spelled as it is pronounced, it’s common for the part of the word that survives in the written form of an abbreviation to be pronounced in the same way as the corresponding part of the spoken form.

  44. “eggplant” vs. “aubergine.”

    I’m not sure what you mean by these words, but I’m tempted to think that’s what is properly called brinjal (or bringelle with a slightly different pronunciation).

  45. GeorgeW says:

    “Of course, I also find “mike” to be an implausible pronunciation of “mic”. Or rather I find “mic” to be an implausible spelling of the usual abbreviation for “microphone”.

    This is because the “silent e” signals a tense vowel in the preceding syllable. The absence of the “silent e” signals a lax vowel. If one simply reads ‘mic’ it would be the ‘sit’ vowel. If one references its source (microphone), it would be the ‘site’ vowel.

  46. I’m not sure what you mean by these words, but I’m tempted to think that’s what is properly called brinjal (or bringelle with a slightly different pronunciation).

    Been there, done that.

  47. Yes, I was thinking about “soc”, as in “The ____ Society”. I’m sure I used to know an example of a student club nicknamed “_____ Soc” with the second word pronounced “sock”. On the other hand sociology has a one-syllable nickname pronounced not like “sock” but like the first syllable of “sociology”, and presumably spelled “soc”. Back on the first hand, an academic department called Social Relations may be orally called “sock rel”.

    My son tells me that computer programmers do not all agree on how to pronounce the command “char”, which is etymologically “character”. John Cowan?

  48. Been there, done that.

    I see. Thanks for the link.

    Other forms: Swahili bilingani, Malagasy baranjely, Somali birinjal (according to this page) or bidingal (according to my dictionary)… ► And bringelle in Indian Ocean French (or Creole), to which it is possible to add another type of Solanum, a pretty sour one known as anghive, which is a word borrowed from Malagasy (angivy).

    Anything to say about football? Er, what’s that?

  49. Anything to say about football? Er, what’s that

    I was reminded that in a few other European languages the word ended up translated, most notably in Polish piłka nożna (where “pil” probably cognate with “ball”; there is also another Polish homonym piłka “saw” cognate with “file”). Then Croatian “nogomet” and Finnish “jalkapallo” (“pallo” doesn’t need explaining, while the Proto-Slavic word for ball is related to verb meaning “squish, crumble” and adjective meaning “soft, pliable”)

  50. David Marjanović says:

    I agree that the outrage is about handegg.

    And what a match! Netherlands 5, Spain 1, apparently the worst loss ever suffered by a reigning champion.

    It’s quite a surprise that any world-class team would score 5 goals against any other such team ever since the rules were changed* a few decades ago. 3 : 0 is rare enough; 5 : 1 is unheard of. I haven’t watched the game, but the Spaniards must have had no defense at all.

    * Odio eterno al calcio moderno, say the Italians reportedly.

    Would they also say “Mish” (for “Missionary”)?

    That’s what the Mormons use to talk about missionaries – but that’s clearly a direct abbreviation of the spoken form, without a written intermediate.

    Punctuated equilibrium is punk eek. :-)

  51. David Eddyshaw says:

    In Japanese it’s generally just boringly “futtobooru.” There’s a nice clip “amefuto” for another game some are keen on.

    There was an ancient highly aristocratic sort of football called 蹴鞠 “kemari” [kick-ball] popular in the imperial court in Heian times. The extremely posh Ayakuras in Mishima’s “Sea of Fertility” tetralogy are supposed to be descended from an ancient kemari expert.

    Wikkers says it has been revived, and that George W played it when he visited Japan.

  52. David Eddyshaw says:

    In the course of typing that I discovered that there is a unicode character for “American Football”

  53. David Eddyshaw says:

    … which breaks the posting on this site.

  54. David Eddyshaw says:

    No, not Dubya but George the Elder, I was wrong. I can imagine that more readily for some reason …

    The unicode character is U+1F3C8. It may well be that everyone already knew this except me.

  55. Not I!

  56. Richard Hershberger says:

    The abstract to that paper seems to be claiming that American’s colloquially call American football “gridiron.” I have never heard this coming from an American. I have heard the *field* being called the “gridiron,” by Americans, but not the word extended to the game itself. I understand this as a term that foreigners occasionally apply to the game.

    The usage is curious, in that it is very outdated. There was a brief period in the early 20th century when the field had yard lines running both across and along the length of the field. In the early days of the forward pass there were restrictions on how far to the side the ball could be thrown, and the lengthwise lines were so the referees could reasonably accurately assess this. One can occasionally old photos of games with both sets, and it is quite startling. The metaphor is obvious.

    I am not surprised that an obsolete metaphor has survived in calling the field the gridiron. In baseball we talk of knocking the pitcher out of the box, when there hasn’t been a pitcher’s box since the 1890s. What surprises me is that this obsolete metaphor seems to have been transferred to other countries and expanded.

  57. David Eddyshaw says:

    @Richard Hershberger:

    Illuminating. I had heard the mystifying term “gridiron” and just put it down to general American inscrutability.

  58. In Japanese it’s generally just boringly “futtobooru.” There’s a nice clip “amefuto” for another game some are keen on.

    You know, my impression is that “sakkaa” (note American-style pronunciation) is much more common, and the number of articles on Google News etc. seems to back me up. But things may be different among those with more interest in the game itself.

    According to the Nihon Kokugo Daijiten, when the sport was first introduced it was called various “football”, “association football” (both suitably katakanified) and also “kemari”, a repurposing of the word used in David’s comment. The next stage was a neologism: 蹴球 (shūkyū), built of Sino-Japanese morphemes meaning literally “kick-sphere”. Apparently “ア式蹴球” (“A-type kick-sphere”, where “A” is for “association”) was sometimes used to distinguish the game from “ラ式蹴球”, “Ra-type kick-sphere”, i.e. rugby (RAgubii). (The definition of 球 isn’t a strict mathematical one here, obviously.)

    The dictionary notes that “Sakkaa” was known and used since the 1910s but didn’t become the standard way of referring to the game until after WWII.

  59. To me (lifelong USA resident but not particularly a fan of any sort of football), “gridiron” is a sufficiently old-fashioned term as to be almost in the jocular category. And I think of it as denoting the playing field, not the game.

  60. David Eddyshaw says:

    @Matt:

    You’re right – sakkaa rather than futtobooru.

    However sakkaa is surely based on UK rather than US pronunciation, as is usual for English words in Japanese. The -a- is the usual rendering of the ‘cup’ vowel, (the UK version of this is as close to Japanese ‘a’ as the US is) and the non-rhotic -aa for -er reflects the usual convention.

    The convention for adapting English words into Japanese is presumably a hangover from the geopolitical realities of a sadly bygone era.

  61. David Eddyshaw says:

    Scratch my comment on the first vowel of ‘sakkaa.’ ‘Cop’ vowel, not ‘cup’.

    The quintessentially British James Bond is Jeemuzu Bondo not Bando so you must be right about sakkaa too.

    Non-rhotic, though. Perhaps the influence of those Celtics and their basukettobooru …

  62. David Eddyshaw says:

    To say nothing of Pokemon …

    Odd that it should be sakkaa rather than sokkaa if the borrowing is as old as 1910.

  63. Yes, I wasn’t thinking about the ending, that is an interesting point. Reproducing or recreating the English ending “-er” by lengthening an “-a” is so standard now that you could argue it’s a part of Japanese morphology (Amuro -> Amuraa, naito (“night [baseball game]“) -> naitaa), and even words borrowed directly and unambiguously from American English are given non-rhotic pronunciations (LA Lakers = “Rosanzerusu Reikaazu”, hater = “heitaa”), so it would not be too out of place to find that “soccer” had been borrowed that way too.

    On the other hand given the age of the word in Japanese it’s quite possible that it really was borrowed direct from the UK and the first vowel became /a/ rather than /o/ for good and regular reasons that I happen to be ignorant of.

  64. A well-known truncation which transforms /s/ to /k/ is “bicycle” > “bike”. Perhaps it was coined by someone with a knowledge of Greek, though I can’t believe there was ever a variant “bikykle” (unlike “kinema”).

    The Hacker’s dictionary characterises SOC “sock”-not-“sosh” and char “char”-not-”keIr” as Commonwealth Hackish.

    “gridiron” is a useful umbrella term for American and Canadian football; though “North American football” would do just as well.

    Which game in Ireland gets called “football” depends on context and, failing that, which is more popular in a given area. The RTÉ Sport website has categories “Soccer” and “GAA>Football”; the articles within both tend to say “football”.

    AFAIK* “Celtic” in Ireland has a K except in the names of soccer clubs, e.g. Donegal Celtic (in Belfast) and Cork Celtic (defunct), where the S-pronunciation is presumably a nod to the Glasgow club. I don’t know any foreign Celtic clubs other than Glasgow and Boston, but if I came across one I would mentally pronounce it with an S. There is a newspaper in This is in contrast to Z; I saw a film called “Dogtown and Z-Boys” some years ago, and even though I new it was about American skateboarders I asked for a ticket to “Zed-Boys” and was not appraised of my mistake until watching the film.

    *There is a newspaper in Cavan called “The Anglo-Celt”, founded before the Keltic fashion took hold; I dunno how its name is currently pronounced by its staff or readers.

  65. David Eddyshaw says:

    @Matt:

    I’ve always assumed that Japanese -aa for English -er is British (and the grammar books seem to concur) but it occurs to me that syllable-ending -r even of rhotic English might not sound very like Japanese -r to Japanese ears. I’m trying to think over other differences between UK and US English that might survive the mincing machine of katakana enough for the origin still to be distinctive, but examples don’t come readily to mind.

    A priori, while it flatters my patriotic pride to think that the Japanese would borrow from proper (i.e. UK) English preferentially, I’m not so sure that even pre-war Britain would have been a more obvious model for Japan than the US. I wonder if there is more to this than the rhoticism question? Was there ever a documented strategy of borrowing from British English?

    I suppose my confusion over the ‘cop’ vowel actually does provide some evidence; this gets regularly turned into Japanese ‘o’ rather than ‘a’ which is certainly easier to understand if the model was UK pronunciation. But Japanese ‘o’ is pretty unrounded too, come to that, and the US pronunciation doesn’t seem uniform either.

  66. GeorgeW says:

    mollymooly:
    A well-known truncation which transforms /s/ to /k/ is “bicycle” > “bike”.

    Good example. You say, “well known,” but I can’t quickly come up with others. I guess the ambiguity of the written results in easy transformations.

    Maybe there is some intuitive, underlying rule that word final c is pronounced /k/. Are there counter examples where word-final c is pronounced /s/?

    AFAIK* “Celtic” in Ireland has a K except in the names of soccer clubs, e.g. Donegal Celtic (in Belfast) and Cork Celtic (defunct), where the S-pronunciation is presumably a nod to the Glasgow club.

    Interesting. I had thought that the Boston basketball team (and its little league copies) was the exception to the /k/ pronunciation of Celt(ic).

  67. GeorgeW says:

    In the above, I wrote written ‘c’ with angle brackets, which seems to have caused them to be deleted altogether. Following “word final” should be ‘c’. Sorry.

  68. An Etymological Brainteaser: The Shortening of Bicycle to Bike
    Robert B. Hausmann
    American Speech
    Vol. 51, No. 3/4 (Autumn – Winter, 1976), pp. 272-274
    Published by: The American Dialect Society
    Article Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/454976

  69. What about “Ike” from “Eisenhower”? Or “Ike” from “Isaac” (though that does have /k/ at the end of the full form)?

  70. The nickname “Ike” for Eisenhower and his brothers may owe something to German Eik ‘oak’, or even to Ike from Isaac — /aɪzən/ is phonetically quite similar to /aɪzək/.

  71. J. W. Brewer says:

    Isaac -> Ike is centuries old. I don’t know if there’s a conventional story about its origin, but nicknames often seem to be weird one-offs from a general phonological perspective. E.g., afaik there isn’t a broader sound-change phenomenon in the history of English that Henry -> Hank is but one example of. So I would not necessarily expect the origin of “Ike” to illuminate that of “bike.”

  72. nicknames often seem to be weird one-offs from a general phonological perspective

    Indeed. Sometimes they get into the general vocabulary, too, which is why English has frog instead of frosk (via metathesis to frox); nothing else will account for the gemination in ME frogge. The same story may well explain the otherwise mysterious dog, in which case it ultimately has the same origin as dusky.

  73. David Eddyshaw says:

    Another -aa from -er loan from English to Japanese that I am prepared to state definitively does not originate in the UK: チアリーダー chiariidaa.

    I just discovered that 御転婆 otenba “tomboy” is supposedly from Dutch ontembaar “untameable.” Too good to spoil by checking. (In hindsight the meaning of the kanji “honourable rotate granny” might possibly have tipped me off that this is not in fact a Sino-Japanese compound …)

  74. David Eddyshaw says:

    @JWB:

    “Jack” for “John” is pretty inscrutable, too. And another one in -k.

    (On the other hand it’s not too hard to see why Clive Staples Lewis might want to be called Jack.)

    Might it have something to do with the old hypocoristic -kin, as in mannikin, Perkin etc?

  75. Trond Engen says:

    “honourable rotate granny”

    “Gammel dame er vond å vrenge”, as we say here.

  76. Trond Engen says:

    JWB: So I would not necessarily expect the origin of “Ike” to illuminate that of “bike.”

    What about bike ~ bis@k in analogy to ike ~ is@k?

  77. J. W. Brewer says:

    Here’s a newish theory (i.e. propounded a few years ago, approx 140 years after the word came into use) about the origin of the Dutch word for “bike”: http://www.24oranges.nl/2012/02/23/etymology-of-dutch-word-for-bicycle-cracked-after-140-years/.

  78. David Eddyshaw says:

    Having bestirred myself to consult an actual book, I find that Chambers says “Hank” is a repurposing of Hank(in), originally pet form of Joh(a)n, and “Jack” likewise does originate from -kin via Ja(n)k(in.)

    It just lists Ike as short for Isaac, without anything further.

  79. David Eddyshaw says:

    “Gammel dame er vond å vrenge” according to Google Translate means “the old lady is painful to distort.”

    One can’t quarrel with that.

  80. David Eddyshaw says:

    Izaac’ll ride his bizaacle. Yes, I could believe in bike as following the analogy of Ike.

    mollymooly’s linked paper invokes the Chomsky and Halle thing, or “How to Explain English Surface Allomorphy while Systematically Pretending we’re Dealing with a Language with No Written Tradition Because We’re Just That Clever.”

  81. Chambers says “Hank” is a repurposing of Hank(in), originally pet form of Joh(a)n

    Isn’t German Hans a shortening of Johannes?

    And while we’re on biblical names, how did Hebrew יעקוב Yaʿqob (Ya’acov) and Greek Ἰάκωβος Iakobos get to English James? He managed to remain Jacques in French and Jakobus in German. (Curiously, he’s Iago in Welsh — same as some varieties of Spanish — but Séamus in Irish.)

  82. Stefan Holm says:

    James

    One step on the road from Iakobos to James might be Italian Giacomo with nasalization of the voiced labial stop. Dropping the mid -ko- syllable seems like an easy next step, as in Spanish Jaime.

  83. David Eddyshaw says:

    Presumably connected with Italian Giacomo, although that doesn’t ultimately explain the m. Maybe someone just had a cold …

    Another -m- is “Hamish” is from the Gaelic vocative form Sheumais of Seumas, corresponding to the Irish Seamas. And Catalan Jaume.

    Welsh Iago has lost a final -v sound, lenited from -b or -m, you can’t tell. The Welsh v, nowadays written f to confuse the English, has frequently dropped altogether in pronunciation, like its counterpart dd (which represents the sound of the initial in English ‘then’.) Hence “Dai” [my own name in real life] from Dafydd, one of the two Welsh forms of “David.” (The saint is Dewi, as are some sinners.) But if you know Iago is James, I expect you know all that already.

  84. David Eddyshaw says:

    Chambers, source of onomastic wisdom, says that there was a later Latin form Jacomus from which the various -m- forms originate.

  85. J. W. Brewer says:

    “Giacamo” reminds me of the mysterious word sometimes spelled Jockamo (or Jock-a-Mo) in the New Orleans song “Iko Iko,” the etymology and original meaning of which (French? Mobilian Jargon? Some West African language?) seems to be the subject of quite varied speculation: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Iko_Iko “From the Late Latin ‘Iacomus’” may not yet be taken, if someone wants to develop a theory along those lines . . .

  86. David Eddyshaw says:

    Indeed. It’s pretty clear that the song is a fairly typical example of Late Roman Voodoo. I would think Elagabalus had a hand in it.

  87. Trond Engen says:

    Voodoo n. from Latin votum “a promise to a god, solemn pledge, dedication; that which is promised; a wish, desire, longing, prayer,”

  88. David Eddyshaw says:

    The only mystery is why nobody ever saw this before …

  89. David Eddyshaw says:

    The knowledge may have been deliberately suppressed by Vodafone. Or as they were originally kno

  90. Looks like Jacomus / Giacomo is the culprit.

    Occitan has Jacme. I wonder how that would be pronounced. Calling marie-lucie!

  91. GeorgeW says:

    Paul Ogden: “. . . while we’re on biblical names, how did Hebrew יעקוב Yaʿqob (Ya’acov) and Greek Ἰάκωβος Iakobos get to English James?”

    Great question. I have looked for an answer for years. What is strange is the New Testament character named Ya’acov became James (in English) while the Old Testament character with the same name became Jacob (an easy explanation). Why the difference? Theological? Hebrew vs Greek as a starting point?

    I was told by an unauthoritative source that the NT James was named for King James by the translators of the famous version. I doubt this, but have found no answer. I have posed this question to an expert in Greek. I have posed the question to a biblical scholar. Neither had an answer.

  92. I’ve always assumed that Japanese -aa for English -er is British (and the grammar books seem to concur) but it occurs to me that syllable-ending -r even of rhotic English might not sound very like Japanese -r to Japanese ears. I’m trying to think over other differences between UK and US English that might survive the mincing machine of katakana enough for the origin still to be distinctive, but examples don’t come readily to mind.

    Yeah, the closest analogue that comes to mind is words like “Apple” and “Michael” the canonical pronunciations use -Vru, (/appuru/, /maikeru/), but -oo is understood to be a closer approximation of the actual sound (/appo:/, /maiko:/). So perhaps in an alternate universe there are /chiari:do:/ at /reiko:zu/ games, or something like that.

    I wonder if there is more to this than the rhoticism question? Was there ever a documented strategy of borrowing from British English?

    I don’t think there was ever a unified strategy back then, although there are guidelines now. People borrowed whatever they came into contact with. Some words were even borrowed from written sources, with Japanese pronunciations reflecting the spelling rather than any actual (contemporary) pronunciation.

    I haven’t done the hard digging to get quantifiable figures, but it wouldn’t be that surprising if UK English had a greater influence on Japan back then. The black ships etc. were American, of course, but it was the UK who eventually started signing reasonably equal treaties of commerce, friendship, etc., culminating in a genuine Anglo-Japanese Alliance, not to mention all the UK colonies in Japan’s neighborhood. My impression is also that UK English was still considered the prestige variety in international terms back then.

  93. J.W. Brewer says:

    GeorgeW: the “in honor of King James” theory is easily refuted by looking at the usage of prior English translators of the NT who had no incentive to suck up to not-yet-existing monarchs. E.g. Wycliffe’s late 14th century version of Mark 3:16-17 is “And to Symount he yaf a name Petre, and he clepide James of Zebede and Joon, the brother of James, and he yaf to hem names Boenarges, that is, sones of thundryng.” But in Wycliffe’s version of Genesis we have “He that yede out first was reed, and al rouy in the manere of a skyn; and his name was clepid Esau. Anoon the tothir yede out, and helde with the hond the heele of the brother; and therfore he clepide him Jacob.”

    If anything, the more interesting question is why the OT figure isn’t “James” in English, since obviously James was viewed as generally equivalent to the Latin Iacobus by the time the translating was being done. It may be relevant that the OT figure is “Iacob” rather than “Iacobus” in Latin (probably originating from the parallel slight distinction in the Greek, NT Ιάκωβος v. OT Ιακώβ). The KJV version of Ecclesiasticus (a/k/a “Sirach”) carefully follows the Greek rather than Hebrew names of OT personages (because the translators were working from a Greek original, the Hebrew having gone missing over the centuries), e.g. Jesus for Joshua and Elias for Elijah, but has Jacob for Jacob.

  94. Séamus in Irish

    I can’t be sure, but I suspect that this is an Irish representation of English James, in the same way that Séan is an Irish representation of English John, distinct from the native equivalent of Iohannes which is Éoin.

    written f to confuse the English

    Say rather, so as not to confuse the Welsh. In English there are rules so that when U and V are written identically (as they were until recent centuries), it’s still possible to tell which one is intended. That is why love has a final -e — not because it was once pronounced, but to distinguish between love and Lou. For Welsh, that wouldn’t work reliably, so the conventions of f for /v/ and ff for /f/ were developed.

  95. George Gibbard says:

    The Irish name borrowed from English “John” is Seán not Séan (Séan would come out as “Shane”).

  96. George Gibbard says:

    Similarly I believe it’s Eóin not Éoin (isn’t this the form in your own name, John Cowan?).

  97. George Gibbard says:

    Or actually, I seem to recall that it’s conseidered unnecessary to write the accent on eo /o:/ because the number of words with short eo (as in beog ‘little’) is so small.

  98. anhweol says:

    Re Welsh spelling of v/f/ff; while the f/ff convention neatly avoids needing a u/v distinction (which would have been very useful for e.g. the Welsh Bible of 1588), Middle Welsh used the ambiguous letter for both the vowel and the consonant (except in final position where -f is used for the consonant).
    For the other potential spelling ambiguity, i/j, Welsh was in the fortunate position of not using ‘j’ in native words.

  99. GeorgeW says:

    Somewhat related to the Ya’acov > James transformation, a number of years ago, I traced the sound changes of how Yeshu’a became Jesus. As I recall, there were about 10 changes as it made its way from Hebrew to Modern English. A number of the changes occurred going from language to language. However, several were within English itself (like the Great Vowel Shift). The end result was that not a single sound segment remains the same as the original.

  100. Sorry about the mucked-up accents: post in haste, repent at leisure.

  101. Jesus for Joshua

    As I wrote a few years ago, “in Russian, unlike in Western European languages, there is no differentiation between Joshua (Yehoshua) and Jesus (Yeshua, a shortened form of Yehoshua)—they’re both Iisús.”

  102. Isn’t German Hans a shortening of Johannes?
    Yes, it is.

  103. languagehat:

    Iisús? Am I reading this right with an initial /l/? If so, how did that arise?

  104. Rodger C says:

    GeorgeW, that’s “iisus.”

  105. GeorgeW says:

    “iisus.” Ahh, thanks.

  106. Don’t worry, GeorgeW, someone at the Vatican made almost the same mistake:
    http://world.time.com/2013/10/11/lesus-christ-vatican-misspells-jesus-on-6000-papal-medals/

  107. joanne walker says:

    Reading English crime novels I see references to “footie”. As in “He’s sitting in there watching the footie on the telly”.

  108. David Marjanović says:

    German Eik ‘oak’

    Not that it would matter in an English context, but it’s Eiche in Standard and Otherwise High German.

  109. Yeah, I meant Dutch eik.

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