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HOW DID SOCCER GET ITS NAME? WELL, IT HAD NOTHING TO DO WITH SOCKS
Bill Kilkenny
December 05, 1983
The source of the name of the game—almost any game—is usually easy to figure out. You would be correct, for instance, if, knowing nothing about football, you were to deduce that the game involves contact between ball and foot. Similarly, the unschooled could make some pretty good guesses about racquetball, basketball and handball.
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December 05, 1983

How Did Soccer Get Its Name? Well, It Had Nothing To Do With Socks

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The source of the name of the game—almost any game—is usually easy to figure out. You would be correct, for instance, if, knowing nothing about football, you were to deduce that the game involves contact between ball and foot. Similarly, the unschooled could make some pretty good guesses about racquetball, basketball and handball.

Now take a shot at soccer. Soccus in Latin and socc in Old English refer to a light shoe and are related to "sock." And, if you were to consult the authoritative Oxford English Dictionary, you would learn that soccer was originally spelled "socker." You might figure the name for soccer is linked to foot-related words.

And you would be wrong. There is no connection.

Before I reveal the source, let's take a look at the related game of rugby. Rugby started off as a charming village in England called Hroca's Burg. Several centuries ago, the village became Rocheberie and then Rokebi. But one mispronunciation led to another, and pretty soon everybody called the town Rugby. Later, the famous Rugby School was created.

In 1823, William Webb Ellis, a student at Rugby School, was playing a form of football in which the ball could be handled as long as the participant didn't move his feet. Ellis, out of frustration, picked up the ball and hauled it over the goal line. Ellis' action soon became an accepted practice and was identified with the school as the "Rugby game."

What Rugby became famous for was a rough-and-tumble version of "football," which, like most other things, had been passed along by the Greeks and Romans. Eventually, the game's rules were standardized, the size of the field and the shape of the ball were established and the sport became known as rugby football, rugger for short.

But many Englishmen did not like the rugby form of football. They favored the earlier, gentler game, in which physical contact was minimized and coordination and cooperation were emphasized. And so, in 1863, an organization was formed to codify the rules for their game. It was called, simply, the Football Association. The game it governed was known as association football (to distinguish it from rugby football); it became abbreviated to "assoc. football" in print and was probably pronounced "soc football."

And, in much the same way that rugby football had become known as rugger, soc football became known as soccer. But, even so, it is popularly called football in Europe and other places where American-style football has been rare; if not unknown. The name "soccer" is used mostly in the U.S. and Canada.

Despite the trouble it has had catching on in the United States, soccer is the most popular spectator sport in the world, drawing crowds totaling hundreds of millions every year. You might even say it's had a lot of sock.

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