More on Footballisms

Interesting article on the BBC website about differences between U.S. and British vocabulary for sports, especially football/soccer. NOOBs has covered the issue, especially in a guest post by Jack Bell, but the BBC piece provides some nuance. The author, Tom Geoghegan, quotes American soccer blogger Chris Harris on a contentious split

between US soccer fans insisting on using American terms to describe the game compared to Americans who insist on using British language to talk about the game, so they’re more accepted by hardcore soccer fans and ex-pats. So when Americans use terms like ‘match’, ‘nil-nil’, ‘kit’ and other terms, many US fans will tag those Americans with the ‘Euro snob’ label.

The BBC piece is datelined Washington, but either Geoghegan or his subeditor is British. I know that because the chart in the piece, depicting U.S. and British terms, shows a striking ignorance of the way Americans speak American lingo.

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Where to begin? Well, shutout and matchup are one word in these United States, on frame rings no bell, and our actual cliche is “in his wheelhouse,” not “in the wheelhouse.” And offence instead of offense? Really, BBC?

19 responses to “More on Footballisms

  1. I hate to dispute anything you say, but the term “on frame” is widely used in the US to describe a shot on target, which is one that would go into the goal if the goalkeeper didn’t stop it.

    The one soccer term I just can’t stand, however, is “pace.” Apparently soccer players are not “fast” or “speedy” or “quick.” They “have pace.” It always sounds pretentious or even just silly especially when spoken by an American commentator. I think it’s a British import, but it doesn’t sound much better coming from British lips.

  2. I’m not sure about “matchups” as equivalent to “man markers”. I think the equivalent usage to the concept of man-marking in the US is “man-to-man defense”. Another British alternative to “out of play” is “out of touch”, that is beyond the touchline. (Do Americans use “touchline”?)

    Another interesting difference I’ve noticed is that Americans usually say “got a yellow card” or “got the yellow card”, and likewise for the red card. British sportswriters might sometimes mention the cards, but the usual way to refer to those actions are to say that someone was “booked” (yellow card – “cautioned” is also used) or “sent off” (red card). The use of the cards is a relatively recent innovation (debuted at the 1970 World Cup tournament I think) while the terms booking and sending-off date back to the game’s ancient history. (“Booking” refers to the referee writing the player’s name or number in a little notebook.)

    • Perhaps I should clarify what I meant by pointing out that US “matchups” and UK “man marking” are not equivalent.

      The norm in football is to play zonal defense. Players play by position, and a well-organized team tries to keep its shape when playing defense. man-marking is an unusual tactic used to contain an exceptional player on the opposite team. When you man-mark you designate one player to shadow the opposing player that you see as a threat whenever the other team has possession. That is, you sacrifice some of your team’s overall shape in order to make sure that a particular opposing player never receives the ball without a defender very close to him.

      In basketball the norm is to man-mark everyone on the opposing side. And that is referred to as man-to-man defense. That’s never done in football. It’d be very rare to man-mark every single opposing player. Usually if there’s any man-marking at all it’s just one player who’s shadowed in that way.

      The term “matchups” however is much broader. Even if there’s no man-marking going on there are still matchups, insofar as both teams have formations that they use, individual players will likely face particular players on the opposing team with some regularity during the course of the game.

    • I believe that “out of bounds” equates to “INTO touch” and not “out of touch.” (The logic is that once the ball goes off the field, you can touch it with your hands to throw it back in.) In any case, Americans say “touchline,” at least if they know soccer at all.

      A related point I’ve wondered about is that I’ve heard British commentators call the goal line the “by line” for some reason. (The “touch lines” are the sides of the field/pitch and the “goal lines” are the end lines where the goals are located.) I thought a “by line” was something a journalist had.

      • It is both, and can be spelt ‘byeline‘ in the football sense. No, I have no idea why in either case.

      • Regarding byeline: the goal-line is the whole line or, more specifically, the part between the goalposts; the byeline is the goal-line outside the goalposts. There’s a big difference between the ball crossing the goal-line and.crossing the byeline.

        “Out of play” is not the same as “into touch”. The ball goes into touch by crossing the touchline; it goes out of play by crossing the touchline or the byeline (or indeed the goal-line).

        by- and bye- spellings also vary in by(e)-law and by(e)-election.

      • Richard Gadsden

        Touch is not good usage for association football.

        Association football sidelines are not touch-lines.

        Rugby football sidelines are touch-lines because if a player touches them, he’s “in touch” (ie, outside of the playing area), and equally, if a ball touches them, then it is.

        In association football, the whole of the ball must be across the whole of the line to be across the line. The position of the player is irrelevant, so he can stand entirely beyond the line, swing his foot and kick it back in.

  3. Really, Ben? It is a BBC site that is aimed at Brits and therefore the construction and spelling is British. Do I detect a slight hint of elitism and pomposity usually associated with us Brits? Maybe time for a break from the NOOBs before too much rubs off.🙂

    • Indeed, of the four differences listed (I’m excluding ‘on frame’), three are points of spelling, so they hardly show “a striking ignorance of the way Americans speak.”

    • THE CHART IS SUPPOSED TO DEPICT AMERICAN USAGE!!!! Tweaking it for badly failing to do so hardly seems elitist, pompous, or unduly harsh. Even if the BBC site were aimed strictly at Brits (which it is not), it would be make the point better to spell the word “offense” because that would seem so much weirder to readers. (And to the other point, I chose the word “speak” too loosely and have changed it.)

      • It’s also supposed to depict the SPOKEN usage of US SOCCER commentators, NOT baseball, basketball, American football etc commentators.

        Unleaa you’ve spent a lot of time listening to US soccer commentators , you have no basis on which to criticize the list.

        And. since it purports to describe spoken rather than written usage, criticizing the orthography likewise makes no sense.

  4. Wow, striking ignorance of American lingo in general, but American soccer lingo in particular…

    “in the six” – This is something of a neologism. Personally, it clanged on my ear for a few years, but now, well, they’re not going to stop saying it… I suspect that it’s player slang from the second-most-recent generation, who came of age in the ’90s. In fact, I never heard it at all before Kyle Martino retired and went up to the Fox Soccer booth – hmm…

    “man markers” – Both basketball and gridiron have the concept of zone (the defender is responsible for an area) versus man (the defender sticks with an attacker regardless of where he goes) coverage. At least post-1995, US fans are comfortable with mixed schemes – e.g. in gridiron, the safeties can play zone while the cornerbacks each cover a specific man.

    “steal” – This is ridiculous. It’s apparently some kind of basketball analogy that I’ve literally never heard from a US announcer. Not only that, it’s a horrible analogy. In basketball, a “steal” is any situation where a defending player takes away possession of the ball from an attacking player. In soccer/football, a “tackle” can be missed, and the attacking player keeps possession of the ball. And with a “steal” there’s the concept of “interception”, where the defender picks off a pass intended for an attacker – in soccer/football, this is not at all a tackle and is tracked separately. Ridiculous.

    “out of bounds” has been covered, but “into touch” and “out of play” are both common currency among all announcers, even those that are not going out of their way to sound British.

    Also, I don’t think I’ve ever heard either the “wheelhouse” or “good spot” cliches, and I’ve watched a lot of games on both sides of the pond (as well as Argentina, Australia, etc.). More likely something like “he put his foot right through it” or “he hit it really well”.

    I’m really kind of surprised that they didn’t mention “field” versus “pitch” which is almost expected in this kind of comparison. Not to mention that (obligatory britishism) when a US announcer says “he just about X”, it’s not precisely what a British announcer would mean by it – and they do it all the time…

  5. The real evidence that American soccer commentary has been influenced by British soccer commentary is if/when American commentators start using “substitute” as a verb the way the British do (a usage that has now influenced the whole wider usage of “substitute” in the UK). Here’s a typical example: “The crowd came to their feet to pay tribute to another man making his final Old Trafford appearance as Paul Scholes was substituted for Anderson. Scholes received a standing ovation from the United fans as he exited the pitch.” In older English usage, Anderson was substituted for Scholes: from what I can see, this older version is still the regular Amertican usage.,

    • Are you sure the commentators in this case would say “A is substituted for B”, not “A is substituted by B” (or possibly “with B”)? Can you point to an example?

  6. A zero-zero game in progress is described as no score. And nothing about cards: Cautioned and ejected, or shown/given a yellow and red card, rather than booked or sent off, as mentioned in a previous comment.

  7. I thought I just did give you an example – “Scholes was substituted for Anderson”, when in fact Anderson was substituted for Scholes. Here’s another, from The Independent: “Cole, who was named as the fourth different England skipper of Roy Hodgson’s tenure, was given a standing ovation as he was substituted for Leighton Baines in the second half.” Cole came off, and Baines was actually substituted for him.

    If you want a thorough discussion of this, go to the chapter called “Argument Structure” by David Denison in One Language, Two Grammars? Differences between British and American English, ed Günter Rohdenburg and Julia Schlüter, Cambridge University Press, 2009, in which Denison discusses “reverse substitute” and pins the change in usage quite specifically on the change in the rules of football which introduced substitutes during live play. (this chapter appears to be available via Google Books here)

  8. There is an American footballism i heard which i really liked, and that was their term for a shot which stays close to the ground.

    Over here it’s called a ‘daisy cutter’ but they call it a ‘worm burner’.

    Marvellous.

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