I recently stumbled upon an article by fellow specialist sports translator Joseph Lambert entitled The Terminology of the Beautiful Game. Joseph focuses on terminology in his source languages: French and Italian. My source languages are slightly different – I also translate from French, I don’t translate from Italian, and I translate from Spanish and Catalan – so with his permission I decided to write my own post incorporating his French and Italian terms and adding Spanish and Catalan terms.
I will examine the terms he discusses in a future article. In this post I will look at an expression used in the title of Joseph’s article. The term the beautiful game is instantly understood by English-speaking football fans – at least those in the UK and Ireland – as referring to association football, in the same way that boxing fans will instantly recognise the noble art as referring to their sport. Schott’s Sporting, Gaming & Idling Miscellany, by Ben Schott, lists three other poetic nicknames for sports: the sport of kings (horse racing), the gentle craft (angling), the noble science of defence (fencing) and the Tesserarian art (gambling).
The expression the beautiful game has no direct translation into French, Spanish and Catalan, so a translator working from English into these languages must either repeat the word football or use some other expression to refer to the sport. Spanish has the option of using the calqued translation balompié, which the Diccionario Panhispánico de Dudas says “no ha gozado de mucha aceptación entre los hablantes y suele emplearse casi siempre por razones estilísticas, para evitar repeticiones en el discurso” (it is not widely used, and when it is it is nearly always for stylistic reasons to avoid repetition). French, meanwhile, can resort to the expression le ballon rond, which literally refers to the bag of air being booted around the field but is often used as a metonym to refer to the sport. French can also use the slightly informal shortened form foot (French can also remove the suffix -ball from the names of two other sports: handball and basketball).
Another alternative in English is soccer, a word that derives from association football (see next paragraph). I remember soccer being in widespread use when I was growing up as a child in England, but in recent times – perhaps particularly since the 1994 World Cup in the USA – it seems to have fallen out of favour in the UK, wrongly branded an unwelcome Americanism by many; the term was first coined in England. Generally it is used only in headlines (where there is a limit on the number of characters) or when specifically discussing football in America.
Association football is the official name of the sport, so called because it is based on the rules originally devised by the (English) Football Association. The full name is used in contexts where it is necessary to distinguish the game from other codes of football: rugby league, rugby union, American football, Canadian football, Australian-rules football (or Aussie- rules football, commonly referred to as footie in Australia) and Gaelic football. Technically the full name of the sport in French and Spanish is football association and fútbol asociación respectively – and FIFA actually stands for Fédération Internationale de Football Association – but these are rarely, if ever, used in those languages. Note that in English it is not unusual for a rugby (league or union) commentator to say something like “that’s excellent football by England” or “that’s excellent use of the football by Wales”.
Watch this space for a follow-up post on vocabulary used to describe the action during matches.
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Thanks for the mention and for such a great post, really interesting read!
The point you make about ‘soccer’ is right on the money; I was talking to my grandad earlier and he still refers to the sport as soccer but anyone of my generation wouldn’t dream of using it now due to the association with MLS… It’s quite a bizarre situation that sees a sense of elitism and borderline xenophobia force football fans to abandon their usually strong affiliation to tradition. Languages are crazy things!
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