World Cup words

England are (BrE; AmE = is) out of the World Cup competition. For people like me this means an end to excellent crowd-free shopping opportunities. It also means that I should write about the (BrE) football/(AmE) soccer words I've been noticing, before it all seems completely irrelevant.

While British people can watch football games, they're more likely to watch football matches (unless they write for BBC News Online, in which case they're oddly out of step). American English would refer to matches for tennis, but generally not for team sports. If you look up baseball match on Google, you find the source is generally Australian, European or US-immigrant.

Of course, the sport itself is referred to as a game--and not just any game, but The Beautiful Game. A well-worn cliché in these parts is Football is a game of two halves--i.e. 'don't count on things staying the same way, they might change'. This is applied to just about anything. Sometimes it retains its original sense, and other times it just means 'X has two aspects':
Attractiveness is a game of two halves. (New Scientist)

New Zealand, like football, is a game of two halves. (The Times (Ireland))

Sisters, like football, is a game of two halves. (CD review on Rate Your Music)

Your report “Virgin’s £30m German peace price” (Business, last week) reminded me of the fact that business, like football, is a game of two halves. (The Sunday Times (UK))

(I haven't found the original source of this phrase. Anybody know?)

This World Cup has seen the coining of a new tabloidific word. (And it's not tabloidific, which I just made up all by my lonesome--you can googlewhack it with any other word on this blog.) It's the acronym WAGs (pronounced [wægz]) for 'Wives and Girlfriends', but also used in the singular, where the acronym doesn't make as much sense:
For those footballer W.A.G. (Wives And Girlfirends!) wannabees, we've cherry-picked some fabulous designer goodies to have you looking as high-maintenance as Victoria, Colleen and Cheryl in no time. (Tiscali shopping site)

Presumably this term was born out of frustration with the thwarted desire to refer to Footballers' (AmE=Soccer Players') Wives--thwarted, that is, by the marital status of many of the most watched football couples. Marina Hyde at the Guardian pegs it as "what promises to be this year's most tediously predictable new OED entry" and it was last week's Word of the Week at Macmillan English Dictionary's site. It's not a very kind term, since wag also means a joker, but footballers' wives (and girlfriends) are treated as a kind of national joke anyhow.

Are there any wives of American sports figures who are famous just for being wives of sports figures and shopping a lot?


  1. I was thinking they made up WAGs to combat the associations of the TV programme, which is even trashier and more unbelievable than the real life ones.

  2. I don't think they wanted to counteract the association, but build on it, but Footballers' Wives and Girlfriends is just too much to fit into a headline. A lot of them aren't actually wives...

  3. If you ask now you'd get a few admitting that a lot of them aren't actually footballers either =).

  4. Two points...a US phrase that comes to mind is "football widow"--a woman who is alone on Sunday because her husband is planted in front of the TV watching football.

    As for US women famous for being the wife of a sports star, the first one that leapt to mind is Anna Benson. She's very outspoken (and takes a lot of criticism for that). (Her husband, Kris, is a somewhat above average baseball player.)

  5. I don't know anything about Anna Benson--she doesn't seem to have made it to my sources for US celebrity gossip. (Not that I pay much attention to the sport-related celebrities.)

    The terms football widow and golf widow, etc. are now familiar on both sides of the Atlantic. The OED has golf widow going all the way back to 1928 in a dictionary of American English, but their next quotation for it is from the 1960s in the British magazine Punch.

    Skribe, I don't think Australia did much better! ;)

    Can you be a footballer if it's not your main occupation? I've only ever heard of professionals being called footballers. No Saturday afternoon footballers?

  6. I don't know if there are "amateur footballers," but I do know that players of American football — professional or amateur — are never called footballers. What's up with that?

  7. Putting -er onto sport nouns to create player nouns is just not a productive process in English generally--so footballer and cricketer are oddities, and it's not surprising that AmE hasn't bothered with it. We don't have *baseballers or *tennisers or *poolers either (and neither does BrE).

    Because golf is a verb as well as a noun, golfer is ok--as are curler and skater and swimmer (etc.).

    The earliest citation that OED has for footballer is 1880 in the Melbourne Bulletin--so it seems to have started out in Australia.

  8. Skribe, I don't think Australia did much better! ;)

    Don't you know the official word is that we wuz robbed? =)

    Actually, it is interesting to see how the two countries media handled their defeats. The Pommy media pilloried the team especially the coach, whereas our coach has been hailed as the messiah. Even the villain from the Italian game (no not the ref =), Lucas Neil, has been hailed as a hero and a future captain.

    The Australian public also took him to their hearts and he received more herofaxes (not sure if other countries do them) than all his team mates combined. Unfortunately, it's a sad reaffirmation that all Aussie heros are losers =).

    so it seems to have started out in Australia.

    We are the source of all the good things on the planet =).

  9. I have no idea what a "herofax" is, and can't even find a definition of one on the web--definitely Australian!

    I noticed the difference in UK/Australian attitudes too when I googled the Australian result (to make sure I was correct that they were out of the competition before teasing you about it). The articles were all about how Australia is going to win the World Cup--this was after they'd lost--I had to check the date a few times. They're taking a long-term view.

    We are the source of all the good things on the planet =).

    I'm not sure everyone counts the word footballer as one of the good things on the planet--but if you do, enjoy it.

  10. IIRC herofaxes started during one of the Olympics. 96 I think. The general public were invited to call a 1800 number set up by our then government owned telco and leave a message for the Olympic team or for a particular member. Those messages were then transcribed and 'faxed' to the team. They were extremely popular with the public and a morale booster for the team-members. The scheme has been continued with subsequent Olympic and Commonwealth games. WC2006 is the first time they've been used for an individual sport.

    They're taking a long-term view.

    Could also be a case of projection. Particularly if Italy win.

    BTW do you realise that the Melbourne Bulletin is probably referring to Aussie Rules?

  11. I was more interested in the word than which game--one imagines that once the word is known, people'd apply it to any kind of football.

    I notice that it's been applied to an American football player on Wikipedia, on fotosearch and Girls Talk Sports, among others. Interestingly, a lot of these seem to be US sources...but the term is not at all common in the US.

  12. ...but the term is not at all common in the US.

    Yet. It will be.

  13. Back in the 19th century, when base ball was the only standard spelling, the players were ballists.


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AmE = American English
BrE = British English
OED = Oxford English Dictionary (online)