In the World Cup 2022 anthem “Tokoh Taka,” American rapper Nicki Minaj proclaims, “Some say football, some say football.”
While many fans around the world find the term “football” strange, if not objectionable, that’s what Americans – as well as CanadiansSouth Africans and some Australians and Irish mention the sport.
As the American squad took on England in their second game in Qatar, the well-known football-vs-football debate reignited off the pitch.
Ahead of the US vs England game on Friday, to post and memes emphasizing that “it’s not football” flooded social media, and a video shared by the Sports Illustrated publication showed American fans chanting, “It’s called football”.
Here, Al Jazeera looks at the origins of the discrepancy in what the two English-speaking countries call the sport.
It may sound counterintuitive, but the term “soccer” was not originally American. Like the modern sport itself, the name originated in Britain.
As authors Silke-Maria Weineck and Stefan Szymanski explain in their book It’s Football, Not Soccer (And Vice Versa), the official name of the sport is “association football.” British university students nicknamed it “football” in the late 19th century, a twist on the second syllable of “association.”
But while Brits stopped using the nickname decades ago, Americans stuck with it.
In an interview with Al Jazeera, Szymanski, a professor of sports management at the University of Michigan, emphasized that as much as the British hate the term “football,” its origins are indisputable. He followed its use in the United Kingdom well into the second half of the 20th century.
For example, the 1973 autobiography of the legendary Manchester United coach Matt Busby is titled Soccer at the Top: My Life in Football.
Szymanski has a theory to explain the decline of the word “football” in England: “anti-Americanism.”
“When it became common knowledge in the UK that Americans called it football, it suddenly became what we call an ‘exile word’ in British English,” he said.
Throughout sporting history, the term “football” has been used to describe various sports involving a ball and running, including rugby, which is formally referred to as rugby football.
As association football and rugby football took shape in the UK in the 1800s, another genre of football developed in North America, combining elements from both sports. It became known as Gridiron Football.
Several versions of gridiron football would emerge, including Canadian football, but american football became dominant. It evolved with an oval-shaped ball and pauses after each tackle. That sport was simply called “soccer” in the US and was embraced there as a national pastime.
So while the world largely moved on with the word “soccer,” for Americans, another sport had taken the honor of being called football.
“Calling soccer ‘soccer’ would lead to confusion” in the US, said G Edward White, a law professor at the University of Virginia and author of Soccer in American Culture: The Beautiful Game’s Struggle for Status.
White pointed to the prevalence of football on the soccer field in many American institutions, where it is “played widely in high schools, colleges and the professional national football league“.
With the Hispanic population among the fastest growing populations in the US, an increasing number of Americans know the sport not as “soccer” but as “futbol”. The Spanish word is also becoming increasingly popular among non-Spanish speakers. But attempts to rename “soccer” are still a long way from making a meaningful dent in the use of the term.
After all, the official name of the US team playing in Qatar is the “United States Men’s National Soccer Team”.
Szymanski dismissed the entire football debate as foolish.
“In countries where you have other versions of football, the word football is just the most sensible word to use,” he said. “And that’s the funny thing about it. Why object to people trying to avoid confusing language? So it’s all part of the craziness.”