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TWTS: It's both football season and football season

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Football season is here.

Depending where you live, the thought of this annual arrival might conjure images of shin guards and knee socks or helmets and shoulder pads.

Since both types of football are in season, we thought it would make sense to take a look at both meanings of “football.”

The word “football” goes pretty far back. The Oxford English Dictionary has a reference as early as 1409 for this “open air sport with an inflated ball.”

In most of the world, “football” is used to refer to the game Americans know as “soccer.” Officially, the game is “association football.”

The “association” created the modern rules of the game – teams of 11 players kick the ball toward goals at either end of the field, and only the goalie may touch the ball with their hands.

There were versions of football in which more players could use their hands, including “rugby football” which was named for “Rugby School.” Eventually, it comes to be known as just “rugby.”

“Soccer” is a somewhat slangy term that comes from an abbreviated form of “association football” which was “assoc.” It may have been formed through analogy with “rugger,” for “rugby,” and “footer” for “football.”

Regardless of how “soccer” came about, it was coined in Britain, where it was used as an alternative to “football” for decades. It wasn’t until the second half of the 20th century that it came to be seen as an Americanism and was subsequently dropped in Britain.

American football, the one with the helmets and shoulder pads, has some interesting terms like “punt” and “hail Mary.” To hear our discussion on these terms, listen to the audio above.

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Anne Curzan is the Geneva Smitherman Collegiate Professor of English and an Arthur F. Thurnau Professor at the University of Michigan. She also holds faculty appointments in the Department of Linguistics and the School of Education.
Rebecca Kruth is the host of All Things Considered at Michigan Public. She also co-hosts Michigan Public's weekly language podcast That’s What They Say with English professor Anne Curzan.