football v soccer

The other issue arising from Monday evening’s conversation about ‘socka’ is that Korean is one of a handful of languages in the world in which the word for the game is not either ‘football’ (either as a loanword or in translation*) or ‘soccer’ (as a loanword).

축구 (chuk-gu) means ‘kick ball’, but the sources I’ve consulted leave some unanswered questions. Wikipedia’s page on Names for Association Football states that the word is Sino-Korean and gives the hanja (Korean Chinese characters) 蹴球, but then gives the Chinese word as ‘足球, Hanyu Pinyin: zúqiú, Cantonese: juk kau’ (clearly the same words as the Korean), and translates it as ‘foot ball’. The second character is the same, but the first is different, though that may simply be that the hanja is based on the traditional Chinese character. Then, my student dictionary of Korean gives kick as 차다 (cha-da). 축 doesn’t have an entry of its own, but is part of 축하 (chuk-ha, congratulations) and 축제 (chuk-je, festival). There may be some grammar rule which turns a verb into a noun modifier; if so, I’m not far enough advanced in my Korean studies to have encountered it.

Intriguingly, 차다 means to be cold, to wear,** to kick and to be full. (In Korean, predicative adjectives function more like verbs.)

The word ‘soccer’ originated in England (it is public school/Oxbridge university slang derived from ‘(as)soc(iation football) + er’, along the lines of rugger for rugby and footer for football), but it is now regarded as ‘American’, the USA being one of those countries where ‘football’ is not the round-ball game. In fact, the only countries where soccer is not the unquestionably dominant football code are all of the core English-speaking countries (the UK, the Republic of Ireland, the USA, Canada, Australia, New Zealand and South Africa), where it competes to varying degrees with rugby union and league, and American, Canadian, Australian and Gaelic football. (Australia is the only country with four top-level football codes. We’re really, really good at Australian football.)

By the way, the first recorded instance of ‘soccer’ used the spelling ‘socker’.

*The translation which caught my eye was the Greek word ‘ποδόσφαιρο (podosphero), from πόδι (podi) = “foot” and σφαίρα (sphera) = “sphere” or “ball”’ (Wikipedia). The official term for this process is ‘calquing’.

** Korean has a bewildering array of words for ‘wear’, depending on the item and possibly the part of the body. 차다 seems only to be used to refer to wearing a watch.


7 thoughts on “football v soccer

  1. I am always fascinated by your columns on Korean words, language, usage, etc. Well done!

    re: football (kinda) My Aussie uncles played rugby, Australian rules. Two played for company teams while the other played semi-professionally. I vaguely remember seeing them play (I was only 6 when we left Australia). When my youngest daughter was at Uni she took up rugby (league), playing hooker for the city’s women’s team.


  2. My comment accidentally sent before I was ready.
    The various and seemingly completely unrelated meanings of some Korean words is fascinating. How is “wear” part of “football”? Does it mean something along the lines of “foot wearing the ball”? Of course, this happens,occasionally in other (possibly all) languages but since we’re on the abject of Korean I’m asking specifically about that language?


    • Without advanced study of Korean, I can’t be absolutely certain, but I’m 99% sure that ‘to kick’ and ‘to be cold’ are completely different words than ‘to wear’/’to be full’. They just happen to have the same pronunciation and spelling. The best analogy I can think of in English is bore (drill) and bore (make weary by dullness) which are two different words.


  3. Australia also plays at the highest level of International Rules Football. Then again, only two countries are involved in that: Ireland and Australia. By the way, have you seen this Gruen Pitch ( – urging players to give up their own football code so we can thrash everyone else at soccer.

    We have an interesting back-and-forth at uni because we have two Kiwis, who of course are really into rugby and really into beating Australia at rugby – the thing is, all the local students couldn’t care less, because we’re in South Australia, an AFL state rather than a rugby state, and they just don’t really care what’s going on with rugby. Meanwhile the Kiwis are breaking out their All Blacks flags and giving us minutely updates about how thrashed Australia’s getting.

    Cricket is better at uni, because we have a couple of Indians, too, and I can get into cricket better than I can rugby. Even if I’m the only one who cares about the Ashes.


  4. Pingback: kick baseball | Never Pure and Rarely Simple

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