Collins Language

Blogs from the Collins Language team in Glasgow, UK.

Monday, 12 July 2010

July 2010

What's in a Name?

Every four years the attention of the world is focused on one summer sporting event: the Summer Olympics. But there is another summer sporting event, also held every four years, which draws the attention of every nation on earth but one: the FIFA World Cup.

Football, in its modern form, was invented in England; or at least, the formal rules which distinguish it from other forms of football were first codified in England in the mid-nineteenth century. Early types of ball-game played primarily with the feet are traceable to the Middle Ages and not necessarily confined to England.

Football has long been one of the most popular sports in the world, uniting Europe (its traditional home), Asia, the Americas, and Africa. In the English-speaking world, the one or two countries that don't really care for it are identifiable by their tendency to call the sport 'soccer'. However, football is significantly less popular than other sports in Australia, where it falls behind cricket and 'Australian Rules Football', and New Zealand, where rugby is the more popular sport; both of these countries, however, avoid the term 'soccer'.

The name 'soccer' is particularly associated with the United States of America, where they refer to complacent middle-class housewives as 'soccer moms' and where the sport is regarded as the province of children and women. Europeans often chastise Americans for choosing to excel in sports which no one else plays, such as baseball, basketball, and American football (though, to be fair, baseball is popular in Canada and Central and South America, and the World Series does involve more than one nation, unlike the Superbowl). Ironically, the name 'soccer', like the sport it refers to, originated in England.

The Football Association was founded in England in 1863 in order to codify a standard set of rules for the game, enabling the various city clubs to compete against each other (they had previously had their own variations of the rules) and to distinguish the sport from other forms of football, especially Rugby. As this sport was officially known as 'Association Football', it was naturally shortened to 'soccer' – just as 'Rugby Football' was and still is shortened to 'rugger' – with the first citation being recorded in 1889.

As the popularity of Association Football grew around the world, it came to be shortened to just football, being the version of the football most commonly referred to, and the name soccer began to die out. Most other languages call the sport football or some derivation of it, such as Fussball in Germany or futbol in Spain. In North America, however, the American and Canadian versions of football reigned, and both of these games were derived from Rugby in the nineteenth century. Therefore, in North American varieties of English, the name soccer is retained, to avoid confusion with the game where two teams try to score points by moving an oval-shaped ball toward the opponents' side of the field. This form of football is sometimes called 'gridiron', especially in Australia and New Zealand, referring to the layout of the playing field (the yard lines create a grid-like impression, especially if you're used to a traditional soccer field).

Incidentally, one of the earliest citations of the word football comes from 1424, when the Parliament of Scotland forbade playing the game and imposing a fine of four pence.

That Vuvu That You Do

If there is one word – and sound – that has come to represent the 2010 FIFA World Cup, it is vuvuzela.

We added this word to the Collins English Dictionary in 2005, for the 7th Edition. There are only 11 corpus citations of vuvuzela in the 2005 version of the Bank of English, however, and chances are most people didn't know what this word meant back then, unless they had happened to attend a football match in Cape Town. There are now 197 corpus citations of this word, and we not only know what it is, we are all (unfortunately) intimately acquainted with its monotonous bellowing. Collins English Dictionary likens the sound to "the trumpeting of an elephant"; personally, I found the horns en masse gave the impression that the poor footballers were playing a match inside a giant beehive. Maybe they sound different in person.

In case you have been lucky enough to escape the thing, a vuvuzela is a long plastic horn, popular among stadium crowds in South Africa. When blown, it emits one loud note, which some people say is B-flat, but in reality has only a casual relationship to music of any description. The word vuvuzela comes from Zulu, but the origin of the actual horn is more controversial. Several people and institutions claim to have invented it, including a plastics company and a Baptist Church…though it probably doesn't take much of a genius to come up with the idea of a plastic horn.

The vuvuzela first began appearing in South African football matches around 2002. Our earliest corpus citation of vuvuzela is from 1998, but it is in reference to the South African Kwaito musician Arthur Mafokate, and there is no mention of football or any other sport. Football-linked citations pick up in in 2003-2004, becoming especially prolific in 2009 (when 2009 FIFA Confederations Cup, also held in South Africa, first brought the 'instrument' to the attention international football's audience).

The horn is now so popular and ubiquitous (someone even brought one to the Times UK National Spelling Bee Grand Final), that it has developed a 'nickname': vuvu. This word has yet to appear in our corpus, but it does get 679,000 Google hits. If citations continue now that the competition is over, this short form could find its way into the Collins English Dictionary; however, it is equally likely that the word will turn out to be as ephemeral as the cheap plastic from which it is made.


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