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Soccer or football? The discussion over the name of the sport is highly charged


Should it be soccer or football? It's a highly charged question as the U.S. plays England in the World Cup this afternoon. Scrolling through Twitter as the U.S. played its first match of this World Cup campaign against Wales, it didn't take long to find some mean tweets aimed at American soccer fans - things such as...

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: The USA game is actually quite decent for people who call football soccer.

MARTÍNEZ: ...Or...

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #2: I hope the USA lose. I hate seeing people who call football soccer happy.

MARTÍNEZ: Of course, America is one of the few nations that call the beautiful game soccer, along with the likes of Canada and Australia. But for the co-hosts of the soccer podcast "Men In Blazers" and author of the new book "Gods Of Soccer," Roger Bennett, it shouldn't matter either way.

ROGER BENNETT: Why does there have to be a right term? - would be my response. And then my second question would be, who gives a crap?

MARTÍNEZ: Now a U.S. citizen himself, he's got a theory about why fans overseas like to dunk on Americans, or should that be score a goal on Americans?

BENNETT: America is and has been for some time the world's superpower. And the very few times that the world has the upper hand over America, you jump on it. And where does a world have the upper hand over the United States more than anywhere? It's on the men's football field.

MARTÍNEZ: The thing is, the people calling it soccer are probably right. And we've known this for a while.

TONY COLLINS: Soccer is a 100% British term.

MARTÍNEZ: That's Tony Collins, a professor of history at De Montfort University in the U.K. He told NPR during the last World Cup in 2018 that the word soccer comes from an abbreviation of association football to distinguish it from rugby football, the game where you tackle and throw the ball with your hands.

COLLINS: With the elite private schools, the shortening of words was a very common habit. Rugby football was shortened to rugger, and association was also shortened in the same way to become soccer.

MARTÍNEZ: Turns out, Americans have been using one of the game's earliest names and kept it even as it became less fashionable in Britain. At the risk of sparking a diplomatic row, we put that to the U.K.'s ambassador to the United States, Karen Pierce.

KAREN PIERCE: That really surprises me. I didn't know that. I can tell you the Latin full for it, which is pediludium (ph), which may be what we have to go on to call it. You write that rugby used to be called rugby football in full. And it is certainly true that American English has a lot of older words from English in it, so that would make sense.

MARTÍNEZ: So what, then, of all the Brits making fun of Americans for using the word soccer? Time for a national apology, maybe, from His Majesty's government?

PIERCE: Well, I like to think that America wouldn't be America if the Brits hadn't lost in 1776. So, no, I don't think any national apology is needed from either side. But I do think that when we come onto the pitch for the England versus USA game, certain people here will be cheering very, very hard for England. And may the best team win.

MARTÍNEZ: Sounds like it's time to settle this debate on the soccer field - I mean, the football pitch.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAKEY INSPIRED'S "THE PROCESS") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.