What Does Football Mean?
Which game is truly "football"? Are the Americans -- the majority English-speaking group, in this case -- right to call their game football? Or is the British national obsession the properly-named game? (I'm leaving Australia out of this; you guys are just confusing!)
Being a logical person, I decided to research the etymology of the word "football" and its usages throughout history. What was it originally intended to mean? Who came first and in the most sensible way? This way, we can decide who's got it right.
(Disclaimer: While I am American, I hold no preference between American "football" and rest-of-the-world "football;" they're both pretty much equally boring to me.)
Where Did the Word Start?
The first recorded definition of "football" came in 1532. (Yes, the United States weren't around yet, but don't get too cocky yet, Brits.) Because what did it mean? "Something idly kicked around." Pretty vague.
And while it may seem that "football" would imply a ball kicked by a foot, that is quite possibly a false etymology (or just jumping to conclusions). In fact "football" was used to refer to games played by peasants in medieval Europe, which were played on foot (as opposed to games where players had to ride horses, which were played by aristocrats).
These games played on foot did not necessarily include kicking. "Football" didn't refer to any one specific game, though, and many of them explicitly banned kicking.
Of course, almost all the sports we play today are "on foot" so the history doesn't stop there.
William Hone, an English writer, wrote a description of a game called "Foot-Ball" that was played in Scotland. A player would run towards one end of the field (carrying the ball) until an opponent overtook him. At this point, the player could try to break away from his opponent or pass the ball to a teammate. If the opponent could wrestle the ball from the player, that opponent would try to run towards the other end of the field.
Sounds a lot like American football, doesn't it?
(Okay, maybe it sounds like rugby, too...)
But this was just in Scotland. Down in England, the ball stayed on the ground as the game evolved into a sport, keeping more with the style of the Romans. Cambridge cemented those rules around 1848, and the sport continued to evolve into what it has become today.
So Where Did American Football Come From?
The first collegiate game of American football was played between Rutgers and Princeton in 1869, but it probably didn't look much like football, more like rugby with pads, and the rules were more similar those of soccer.
The rematch at Princeton just a week later, though, with Princeton's home team rules looked much more like true American football. According to the Online Etymology Dictionary, the first time they called that game "football" was in 1881.
It looks like England called it "football" first, guys. Feel free to thank Cambridge for writing those rules down a good 35 years before Princeton did.
To be fair, though, America wasn't the first to pick the ball up off the ground. Clearly someone from Scotland brought the game over that way, neglecting to mention that there was a whole other alternative going on in England.
I say we blame Scotland for the mix-up.
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Wait... Why "Soccer"?
This is my favorite part! After all this research, I asked myself, "Well where the hell did they get 'soccer' from, then?" Maybe if you see it like this:
- Socca (1889)
- Socker (1891)
- Soccer (1895)
No, it has nothing to do with socks. It's an abbreviation of "association football" (as opposed to rugby football). The term was coined by a Cambridge student who saw that you obviously could not abbreviate it by taking the first three letters of "association" but wanted a shorter way to say it.
Well there you have it. I think I've solved the football vs football vs soccer argument quite nicely for you all. Clearly Americans should start calling things by their proper names, though I'm not sure what we should be calling American football? I'll work on that one.
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