Why Do Americans Call It Soccer? The Answer Might Surprise You

The 2014 World Cup has turned the world’s attention to football… except in America, of course, where most people are watching a sport known as soccer for the first time in the last four years.

But with the rest of the world in lockstep about how to refer to the sport where players kick a black-and-white ball into a giant net, why do Americans insist on calling it soccer?

The answer — it’s England’s fault.

The Huffington Post recently took on the question of why Americans call it soccer, finding research pointing back to Britain. The name soccer was born in England close to 200 years ago, an abbreviation of the sport’s officials name, “association football.”

The etymology makes sense, given that Brits refer to other sports by the same style of abbreviation, noted University of Michigan professor Stefan Szymanski.

“The rugby football game was shortened to ‘rugger,’ a term recognized in British English to the present day, and the association football game was, plausibly, shortened to ‘soccer’” Szymanski wrote in a research paper on the origins of the word soccer.

When the sport started to take hold in the United States in the middle of the 20th century, Americans took to the term soccer to differentiate it from American football. In the 1980s, Brits began to distance themselves from the term, which was seen as “too American.”

“Since 1980 the usage of the word ‘soccer’ has declined in British publications, and where it is used, it usually refers to an American context,” Szymanski wrote. “This decline seems to be a reaction against the increased usage in the US which seems to be associated with the highpoint of the [North American Soccer League] around 1980.”

The sport known to the rest of the world as football has failed to take hold in the United States to the same extent, and instead an entirely different sport by the same name dominates the sports landscape.

This year, as with every World Cup year, the sport is seeing a spike in popularity in the United States. Though it remains solidly behind other sports like football and baseball, soccer (or football) is starting to gain ground in several areas. The Pacific Northwest is particularly enamored with the sport, with the Seattle Sounders gaining a large and wild fan base.

The money has followed. In the 2006 World Cup Final, the average cost of a 30-second commercial was $129,000. In 2010 that figure grew to $389,000.

Many expect the sport to continue to grow in popularity in the United States, especially in future generations as more children move away from the dangerous football and onto soccer fields. But the Americans will still be calling it soccer.