Why do Americans call that game football?

January 28, 2015 § 11 Comments

Dear colleagues:

This weekend the United States will hold a very American event; In fact, it is the most watched TV event in our country, and for all practical purposes, the day when the game is played is an unofficial holiday that happens to be more popular than most holidays on the official calendar.   I am referring to the Super Bowl: The national professional football championship game in the United States of America; and by the way, it is not football… at least not THAT football played in the rest of the world. This incredibly popular sport in the United States is known abroad as “American football,” and even this designation seems troublesome to many who have watched a little American football and do not understand it very well. Although it is mainly played holding a ball, the sport is known in the United States as football for two reasons: (1) Because this American-born sport comes from “rugby football” (now rugby) that in many ways came from soccer (football outside the United States) and (2) Because it is football, but it is not British organized football, which at the time of the invention of American football was called “association football” and was later known by the second syllable of the word “association”: “socc” which mutated into “soccer.” You now understand where the name came from, but is it really football? For Americans it is. Keep in mind that all other popular team sports in the United States are played with your hands or a stick (baseball, basketball and ice hockey). The only sport in the United States where points can be scored by kicking the ball is (American) football. So you see, even though most of the time the ball is carried by hand or caught with your hands, there are times when a team scores or defends field position by kicking or punting the football.   Now, why is all this relevant to us as interpreters?   Because if you interpret from American English you are likely to run into speakers who will talk about the Super Bowl, football in general, or will use examples taken from this very popular sport in the U.S.

On Sunday, most Americans will gather in front of the TV set to watch the National Football Conference champion Seattle Seahawks battle the American Football Conference champion New England Patriots for the Vince Lombardi Trophy (official name of the trophy given to the team that wins the Super Bowl) which incidentally is a trophy in the shape of a football, not a bowl. It is because the game was not named after a trophy, it was named after a tradition. There are two football levels in the United States: college football played by amateur students, and professional football. College football is older than pro-football and for many decades the different college champions were determined by playing invitational football games at the end of the college football season on New Year’s Day. These games were called (and still are) “Bowls.” You may have heard of the Rose Bowl, Cotton Bowl, Orange Bowl, Sugar Bowl, and many others. When a professional football game was created to determine the over-all champion between the champions of the American and National Conferences, it was just natural (and profitable) to call it the “Super Bowl.”

Although the teams playing the game are from Seattle and the Boston area, the game itself will be played in Arizona where the temperature is very good for this time of the year. There will be millions watching the match, and there will be hundreds of millions spent on TV commercials during the game.

Below I have included a basic glossary of English<>Spanish football terms that may be useful to you, particularly those of you who do escort, diplomatic, and conference interpreting from American English to Mexican Spanish. “American” football is very popular in Mexico (where they have college football) Eventually, many of you will face situations where two people will discuss the Super Bowl; as you are interpreting somebody will tell a football story during a presentation; or you may end up at a TV or radio studio doing the simultaneous interpretation of a football game for your own or another foreign market.

The following glossary does not cover every term in football; it includes terms that are very common, and in cases where there were several translations of a football term I selected the term used in Mexico by the Mexican media that covers the sport.


Football Fútbol Americano
National Football League Liga Nacional de Fútbol Americano
NFL N-F-L (ene-efe-ele)
American Football Conference Conferencia Americana
National Football Conference Conferencia Nacional
Preseason Pretemporada
Regular season Temporada regular
Playoffs Postemporada
Wildcard Equipo comodín
Standings Tabla de posiciones
Field Terreno de juego
End zone Zona de anotación/ diagonales
Locker room Vestidor
Super Bowl Súper Tazón
Pro Bowl Tazón Profesional/ Juego de estrellas
Uniform & Equipment Uniforme y Equipo
Football Balón/ Ovoide
Jersey Jersey
Helmet Casco
Facemask Máscara
Chinstrap Barbiquejo
Shoulder pads Hombreras
Thigh pads Musleras
Knee pads Rodilleras
Jockstrap Suspensorio
Cleats Tacos
Tee Base
Fundamentals Términos básicos
Starting player Titular
Backup player Reserva
Offense Ofensiva
Defense Defensiva
Special teams Equipos especiales
Kickoff Patada/ saque
Punt Despeje
Return Devolución
Fair catch Recepción libre
Possession Posesión del balón
Drive Marcha/ avance
First and ten Primero y diez
First and goal Primero y gol
Line of scrimmage Línea de golpeo
Neutral zone Zona neutral
Snap Centro
Long snap Centro largo/ centro al pateador
Huddle Pelotón
Pocket Bolsillo protector
Fumble Balón libre
Turnover Pérdida de balón
Takeaway Robo
Giveaway Entrega
Interception Intercepción
Completion Pase completo
Tackle Tacleada/ derribada
Blitz Carga
Pass rush Presión al mariscal de campo
Sack Captura
Run/ carry Acarreo
Pass Pase
“I” Formation Formación “I”
Shotgun Formation Formación escopeta
“T” Formation Formación “T”
Wishbone Formation Formación wishbone
Goal posts Postes
Crossbar Travesaño
Sidelines Líneas laterales/ banca
Chain Cadena
Out-of-bounds Fuera del terreno
Head Coach Entrenador en jefe
Game Officials Jueces
Flag Pañuelo
Center Centro
Guard Guardia
Offensive Tackle Tacleador ofensivo
Offensive line Línea ofensiva
End Ala
Wide Receiver Receptor abierto
Tight end Ala cerrada
Running Back Corredor
Halfback Corredor
Fullback Corredor de poder
Quarterback Mariscal de campo
Backfield Cuadro defensivo
Defensive end Ala defensiva
Defensive tackle Tacleador defensivo
Nose guard Guardia nariz
Linebacker Apoyador
Cornerback Esquinero
Free safety Profundo libre
Strong safety Profundo fuerte
Place kicker Pateador
Punter Pateador de despeje
Penalty Castigo

Even if you are not a football fan, and even if you are not watching the big game on Sunday, I hope you find this glossary useful in the future. Now I invite you to comment on football, sports interpreting in general, or maybe you would like to share a “sports interpreting anecdote” with all of us.

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§ 11 Responses to Why do Americans call that game football?

  • Kathleen M. Morris says:

    Though an occasional soccer fan, I cannot claim to be in any sense qualified to interpret for a television sports event. I really admire those who undertake such a challenge, and loved the glossary and explanations!

  • pdianes25@hotmail.com says:

    Thank you! I do not do football interpreting but I am sure many of these terms will come up in the Pacific Northwest during the coming week(s).
    Sent via BlackBerry from T-Mobile

  • Inge Gomez-Michel says:

    Thank you so much Tony, I don’t do sports interpreting neither, but you never know… Excellent resource!! :)))

  • marzolian says:

    The first year that the Seahawks played in their current stadium, a Venezuela friend and his family came over that evening and we watched the game on ESPN en español. It was impressive; not really an interpreting job, the announcers were Spanish speakers who seemed to know the game and had clearly prepared their terminology in advance.

    One comment on your list: In professional American football, there are seven referees on the field. They are listed in this article, but only the most avid fans know the names and positions. I would call them all “árbitros”.


  • marzolian says:

    About 10 years ago I was interpreting for a company in Houston who was receiving visitors from Spain. One speaker in English was describing the advantages of a particular commercial arrangement and keep using analogies from US sports. Once he said that a particular deal was a “quick six” (touchdown, highest score in American Football); another time he said we should punt (decline to keep trying to score for now, but give the ball to the other team). Other times he referred to baseball, talking about a “home run” or a “base hit”.

    Fortunately, it was easy to interpret those expressions into either “futbol” or non-sports equivalents.

  • terri shaw says:

    why not say arbitro instead of juez for the official?

  • Jesse says:

    I would love to interpret a soccer game. This is one of the ways I practice interpreting … great way to get into the emotions of the announcer. I don’t know how I would feel about being up on ALL sports terminology though … time to brush up!

  • Véronique Lesoinne says:

    Concuerdo con marzolian, en México usan más la palabra “árbitros” que “jueces”. Además en lugar de “primero y diez”, dicen “primera y diez”, y en lugar de “bolsillo protector”, usan “bolsa de protección.”

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