As you watch the 2014 FIFA World Cup over the next few weeks, you'll hear a lot of people call the sport "football."

If you're American, however, there's a good chance you call it "soccer." And despite what British fans may tell you, there's a good reason you call it that. They should know — soccer is a British word.

The word "soccer" dates back to the 19th-century birth of modern football. It has a more precise meaning than the broader term "football," points out University of Michigan professor Stefan Szymanski in a new paper.

People have been playing football-like sports for centuries, from the ancient Chinese cuju (pictured above) to the Mayan game pok ta pok, which used a rubber ball. Yet football as it's played in the World Cup was born more recently in Britain.

Some types of football had long involved use of the hands — "football" originally meant an array of ball games played on foot rather than horseback, and didn't necessarily refer to kicking. In 1871, a group of clubs met in London to form the Rugby Football Union, and from then on the two versions of football were distinguished as Rugby Football and Association Football. The latter is a mouthful, especially compared to "rugby," so it clearly needed a nickname.
football一词最初是指在地上而非马背上进行的球类运动。在那时,"football"并不一定要靠踢的,一些"football"长期以来都用手玩。1871年,一些俱乐部在伦敦组建了橄榄球联盟,随后两种不同版本的"football"被分别称为橄榄球(rugby football)和英式足球(association football)以示区别。和前者比起来,后者的名字很拗口,需要一个昵称。

But how did "association" become "soccer"? For one, it was common at the time in England to form slang by adding -er, like "rugger" from Rugby. Plus, as the Online Etymology Dictionary points out, "those who did it perhaps shied away from making a name out of the first three letters of Assoc."
但"association" 是如何演变成"soccer"的?一来在当时的英语中通过添加-er后缀组成俚语很平常,例如橄榄球运动员"rugger"就演变自Rugby。另外根据在线词源词典所指出的,“引导单词变化的人,可能是为了避免单纯地取源单词‘association’ 的前三个字母。”

The popularity of football in North America required another name for association football, so Americans used the British nickname "soccer." This was still a recognized term at the time in England. The word “soccer” wasn't used widely in publications until after World War II. It then peaked in popularity among the British from 1960 to 1980, when soccer and football were used almost interchangeably.

Although it's unclear why "soccer" grew more common in Britain after World War II, it may have been due to the popularity of U.S. soldiers stationed there.

In the 1980s we start to hear the argument that soccer is an American word. It is hard to think of any explanation for the decline of "soccer" in England other than the rising popularity of the word soccer in the U.S.