fixtures and brackets

It's FIFA World Cup Time, a fact that is hard to avoid in this part of the world. I am not the kind of person who’s interested in watching it, regardless of who’s playing or where it’s being held. But I'm nothing if not opportunistic, so I'll use this as an excuse to write about some linguistic differences related to sport(s) more generally. 

It’s old news that the British mostly call it football and Americans mostly call it soccer. It’s even older news that the name soccer is actually British. To quote myself (from The Prodigal Tongue):

Britain, Americans call your football soccer because you taught them to. Just like rugger is a nickname for rugby football, soccer came from the full name of the game, association football. The word comes from England. You should be proud of it. 

But that’s not the difference I want to feature this time. I want to talk about fixtures. If your eyesight’s good (the words are very faint, for some reason), you can see the term repeatedly used on the local team’s website (I've added the purple boxes to highlight them):

BrE fixture in this sense means ‘who’s "fixed" to play whom when’. In the plural, it's the whole list of who's playing whom when. It's a necessary word at any kind of tournament in the UK. I initially learned it through tournament Scrabble (at my first UK tournament 22 years ago), and I recall it (probably orig. AmE) throwing me for a loop then.

You won’t see the word fixtures on most American sports sites or advertising. Instead, you’ll see schedule, as seen here for my "local" (BrE) American football /(AmE) football team back in the US:

In The Prodigal Tongue, I cover the strange history of the pronunciation of schedule. (If you haven't read it, tell Santa. Or your nearest bookseller.) In that discussion, I note that the word schedule is used much more in AmE than BrE, because BrE uses other words for the things Americans call schedules in various contexts. Words like: timetable, programme, and fixtures.

A related term is AmE bracket, which derives from the use of this kind of diagram for showing who's playing whom in an elimination tournament. (For more on differences in the punctuation term bracket, see here.) Randall Munroe, at his comic xkcd,  has done some fantastic brackets, like this one, which I will share because we've had enough sports talk now, haven't we?

click image to enlarge

In BrE one might instead talk about the draw, i.e. who's been "drawn" (as if from a hat) to play against whom. Bracket is a bit different from draw because it's not just who's playing whom in the initial random arrangement, but also eventually who's playing whom all the way up the various rounds of competition. 

And speaking of draw, England were drawn against USA this week, and it ended in a 0–0 draw, which could also be called a tie. Tie is generally more common in AmE, but it's used in BrE too.

Here's 'ended in a tie/draw' in the News on the Web corpus:

If you’re interested in more football/soccer-related content, here are a couple of posts:

And in case you missed it, I now have a (hopefully usually) weekly newsletter in which I will be sharing news of new blog posts (like this one) and other US/UK and linguistic content.
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  1. But in cricket, a tie and a draw are different.

    In first class and test cricket, the game is played over a set number of days. In test cricket it's usually five days, and each team is required to bat twice. If after five days, one of the teams hasn't had time to bat twice, the game is drawn - even though the other team has scored more runs than the team still batting. But if after both teams have batted and after the final batter is out the scores are equal, then that is a tie.

  2. Another difference between brackets and draws is that brackets are not random. Rather, they are set up so that higher-seeded teams play lower-seeded ones, in order to maximize the chances that the two teams playing in the championship are the two strongest teams.

    1. I don't know that I agree with this. Maybe that's a difference in AmE, but you'd still use "draw" in BrE even if it was seeded - for example at Wimbledon.

    2. I agree. At events like Wimbledon, the "draw" is "seeded" with top players in a defined order (with some scope for randomisation within levels) and the remaining places are "drawn" from the proverbial hat.
      Although we (BrE) often use the term "draw" whether it is fully, partially, or not-at-all random. I have never heard a Brit use the term "bracket". Either "fixtures" (whether "fixed", or not) or "draw".
      And just to be clear, "fixed" in this context means "booked" (like a "fixer" books singers for concerts) - not anything untoward (completely unrelated to match-fixing).

  3. I watch a lot of the Premier League, and many BrE terms stick out to an American. The most notable is "tackle", of course - try an American tackle in English soccer and you'll be in trouble! Perhaps that's more of a technical term specific to the sport, but there are a few more general usages that come to mind:

    Match: in AmE I think we would only use "match" for specific individual competitions, I think: "tennis match". We would use "game" in a team context: "Are you going to the game this weekend?" I think in BrE you'd almost always use "match".

    Pitch: "The crowd erupted as the teams walked onto the pitch." In AmE we would say "field" to mean the same thing, or perhaps "field of play". It's possible that "pitch" is used in AmE as a technical term for the field of play specific to soccer, though.

    Boot: I would only use "boot" for footwear that's ankle-high or higher, but boot is used for the specialty athletic shoe (what I would probably call "cleats").

    Kit: The clothes worn by the players. In AmE it would probably be "uniform", or "jersey" for just the shirt.

    Floor: In BrE, you would say "the player is still down on the floor," but in AmE you'd say "ground". Floor would only be used for an interior surface, I think ("wood floor").

    Those are just the first words that come to mind - I'm sure more would bubble up on further thought!

    1. Some/most of these are already covered in other posts. You're welcome to use the search function on the site!

    2. I think we would use ground rather than floor in Britain. Our floors are also inside buildings. We would also use ground as a more common alternative to stadium.

    3. The reason why Americans often remark on British use of 'the floor' to mean 'the ground' is that one does hear it (not infrequently) in the UK:

    4. I do recall when I learned soccer in elementary school somewhere around 1980 in the U.S. "tackle" being a term used. I haven't noticed it in broadcasts, though (not that I listen closely).

  4. The draw (for a competition) in soccer comes from the way that the FA Cup (the oldest top-level football competition) works. Each round is drawn - literally, numbered balls are drawn from a velvet bag - and then all the games are played before the next round is drawn. This means that there isn't a complete bracket before the competition starts the way that there is for, say, March Madness in the US.

    The draws have been gussied up a bit for TV these days, but the basic structure hasn't changed.

    Other competitions in football/soccer do have either a complete draw in advance (e.g. the World Cup) or several stages done at once (e.g. the Champions' League, which does a certain amount of fixing the draws to prevent teams from the same country facing each other in the early stages), but most such tournaments have group stages (what Americans would call "round-robin" stages) early on with the first and second place teams in each group entering opposite sides of the bracket, so a bracket-style diagram that included the groups would be very confusing to follow. The result is that the bracket diagram has never really taken off in soccer/football culture.

    Also, there is still an element of random drawing, as there is not in almost any American sport.

    Even in tennis, which does do a full bracket-style draw, the seeds are locked-in in the American style, but the 3/4 of players who are unseeded are then randomly drawn.

  5. My earlier post did not format correctly. Use Wiki to search for the "Harvard Beats Yale 29-29" for the story. 1968 event and common awareness (In USA) sports types and occasionally used in reference to amazing comeback or underdog ending game in a tie/draw. Others use the form in reference to the original.

    1. I think you might be responding to something from the newsletter and not the blog post?

    2. Where should we respond to something from the newsletter, if not here?

    3. There's an email address on the newsletter for feedback. If you want to respond here, that's absolutely fine, but other readers won't know what you're referring to unless you tell them.

  6. "elimination tournament"

    You mean a knockout tournament?

    I think a draw is when neither party is declared the winner and a tie is a special sort of draw, where there is no winner because both parties achieved the same score. Isn't that right? However, I don't think 'tie' is used when referring to a football result, only 'draw'.

    I don't think you get ties in American sports, do you, because the rules are set up so it's not possible? I know it is the case that the American Go Association's rules for the board game go -- brought there from Japan in the C20th -- introduced a half-point given to White* to avoid the result known to the Japanese as 'jigo', where Black and White score the same number of points. I was told this was because the Americans always want there to be a winner and a loser.

    *It's actually a little more complicated than that, but this is the basic idea.

    1. I don't follow English football, but from what I recall, in a league match if the scores are equal after full time, then the result is a draw. But if it's a FA cup match, they'll play extra time and if the scores are still equal, they have a rematch as they need a result for the next round.

      In the NFL, if the scores are equal after full time they play overtime but if the scores are still equal after that, a tie is declared. There has been at least one tie so far this season.

      In the US in the MLB, if the scores are tied after nine innings, you keep playing until one team has won. I've seen games that were being shown on UK television that were still going at seven in the morning, UK time, having been going for six hours by then.

      But I visited Japan back in 2007 and I was watching a Japanese baseball game and when they had played 12 innings and the scores were still tied, they stopped there.

    2. Thanks for the info, Paul. I believe the NFL is the National Football League and I suppose the MLB is a baseball league? I know very little about either of those games, but it seems from what you say that what I heard by way of rationale for the AGA's introduction of the half-point tie-breaker isn't always true.

    3. At some MLB baseball fields, you can end up with a tie game if there is a time limit imposed by the city and the score is still even when time runs out. This is true in Chicago, I think in both MLB fields in the city. Bad weather can also result in a tie game, which remains a tie if there is not enough season left to finish the game at a later date. You have to have five innings played to be an official game or it's not a tie because it doesn't count at all. A 4-1/ inning game can be official but not a tie because it only counts as official if the home team is winning.

    4. MLB= Major League Baseball

    5. Thanks, Anon

  7. Incidentally, some years ago out of curiosity I watched the Australian rules football final on UK TV. (It went out in the early hours so I recorded it.) When full time was declared, the scores were equal and it turns out they don't play extra time/overtime so they had to have a rematch the following week. Australian rules is a very fast physical game. Unlike American football, there are no stoppages, even if someone has scored, as far as I can tell. The look of horror on the players' faces when they realised they had to go through it all again was priceless.

  8. Planning a visit to Scotland ten years ago. Wanted to see a soccer match while there. Searched online at the club site and found nothing about schedule. "Matches" returned results not future games. Maybe ten days later after looking on other team sites I realized it was the page/tab for "fixtures". So frustrating.

  9. Some novelty brackets like XKCD's are on the Twitter feed of UK quizhost-turned-author Richard Osman, each matchup voted on by his followers to find the most popular overall. Being a Brit, he doesn't call them brackets but rather "World Cup Of" Chocolate/Crisps/Biscuits/etc. There is a tie-in book called "World Cup of Everything" where the bracket is called a "wall chart", extending the soccer World Cup analogy to the charts on young soccer fans' bedroom walls that they are right now filling in with France's win over Morocco.


The book!

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