Why Is Football Called "football"?


Quick Answer

Europeans call soccer "football" because British publications and media outlets used the term more frequently in the early 1980s. American football is so named because the term "gridiron football" was used to differentiate between the game of running, passing and kicking from that of "association football" and "rugby football."

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Full Answer

European football originates from rules defined by England's Football Association in 1863. Sports enthusiasts in Britain called soccer "association football" because rugby was known as "rugby football." Association football was shortened to "soccer," and rugby football was shortened to "rugby." From the 1960s to the early 1980s, the words "football" and "soccer" were interchangeable in the British media. Publications then started calling soccer by the name "football."

American football got its name from "gridiron football," a term that described what the field looked like in the late 1800s and early 1900s. The first usage of the word "gridiron" as a football field was in 1896. The name stuck through the 1920s, and then it was simply shortened to "football" for American fans. A gridiron connotes a grill used for cooking meat made of small squares. Eventually, an American football field changed to become a series of parallel lines instead of a grid of squares.

A gridiron football game was played on a differently marked field than an association football field, even though the playing areas were roughly the same size. Therefore, gridiron football simply became football, and association football turned into soccer in the United States.

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