soccer

The look of this word is great for its object: it’s like a ball being kicked between the s and the r. To my eyes, it looks like the r has kicked it, as the cce look like leftward motion of the ball we now see at the o. And clearly the r is like a foot upside-down, suggesting that the kick was one of those backflip-type kicks that Brazilians seem to like especially. The sound is good, too, with that quick-impact “sock” (how Andy Cappish) followed by the the echoing rebound “er.” It may sound similar to sucker and succour, but the broadness of the vowel here gives it a much more sportive tone. It has a sonic affinity to saw kerf, too, but only carpenters are likely to carry any flavour of that – or, probably, know what the heck it is. (Hint: saw blades have actual thickness that must be figured into your measurements.)

But this word has the added element of only being used, really, in the United States and Canada – to refer to a game that is much more popular practically everywhere else, and that is everywhere else called football (or fútbol or similar). We can’t call it football here because we have a game that, although it involves mostly hand contact with the ball, is called football. If we talk about it being played elsewhere, we may want, for accuracy, to say football, but then we have to add (soccer) to clarify.

So where did we get this word soccer? From the same blokes what gave us rugger (for rugby) and champers (for champagne) and preggers (need I explain) and those various other laddish -er nicknames. You see, the game thus named was – is – specifically Association Football. And association may be abbreviated assoc. And if you take the stressed syllable of that, drop off the upbeat schwa and add that er, you get soccer – not pronounced “so-sher” because it’s based on the printed form. It was only a nickname in Blighty, but in the colonies we needed a name other than football, and this one was suitably catchy… You could see it if it were coming over today: those lifestyle reporters starting their little segments with “It’s called ‘soccer.'”*

And when I go to the Corpus of Contemporary American English to check what common collocations of soccer are, the top two play pals are the two kinds of people most often associated (socced?) with it, the one from England and the other from America, the one with their beer bottles and the other with their minivans: hooligans and moms.

* If you hear that “It’s called…” introduction, don’t take it on faith that it actually is called that by much of anyone. Phenylpropanolamine was never listed as “PPA” on any drug labels, but that was all the reporters wanted to call it because they didn’t want to have to deal with phenylphophylphipplprapplhoosywhatshuh. “It’s called ‘PPA,'” they said, but it wasn’t.

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