The Super Bowl and the game Americans call football

February 1, 2016 § 4 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 battle the American Football Conference champion 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 game will involve two teams representing two cities, the game itself will be played in California where the temperature is 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.

As I do every year on these dates, 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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§ 4 Responses to The Super Bowl and the game Americans call football

  • indextran says:

    Good working glossary for football, but it would be good to see comparable glossaries for other sports — for example, baseball. A combined Google search on “béisbol” and “Mexico” just now turned up over 1 million hits.

  • Franco Gamero says:

    Nice list of terms.
    It is helpful for Interpreters as many situations are described using Football terms.
    I don’t see:
    Hail Mary pass
    Time out: “Tiempo”. NEVER Tiempo Fuera!
    The verbalizing of the penalties.
    La película Sube y Baja de Cantinflas usa muchos términos que solo una persona conocedora de fútbol americano podría entender. 1959.
    Thank you.

  • André Csihás, FCCI says:

    Good evening, folks / amigos!

    First of all, I’m grateful to Tony for having compiled such a tremendous list of football terms that will eventually come in handy at some time during our careers as conference interpreters or —who knows— even as court interpreters, right? In any case, I think it’s a superb list of terms and as for myself, I don’t think that there’s such a thing as too many glossaries! ¡Te agradezco Tony!

    Second, amigo Franco, you must not expect our amigo Tony to list ALL the possible terms in such a flighty lexicon! May I suggest that if you have additional terminology and its equivalent translations, perhaps you might care to share it with those of us who yearn to know more about it. Personally, I’m not too concerned about anyone being so exact about American football terminology and even if they were, I’d ask for an explanation because I myself, am nowhere near being someone who knows or cares anything about football (Yikes, did I really write that!!!!?)

    Third, this is strictly an American sport and frankly put, no one cares about it elsewhere on earth about it, unless they’re fans of the sport overseas, purely as a novelty.

    As a last item, let’s allow our great friend Tony to teach us things that constantly enhance our knowledge and vocabulary in our profession.

    ¡Gracias Tony por tus maravillosas y educativas aportaciones!

    André Csihás, FCCI

    • Franco Gamero says:

      Permíteme aclararte lo siguiente:
      Después de congratular a Tony por la lista, CONTRIBUYO con otras palabras que no estuvieron en su lista.
      No me atreví a proponer traducciones para Down ni el Hail Mary Pass. Pero sí para el Time Out, como deportista/árbitro que soy. Todas estas palabras aparecen en declaraciones juradas o testimonios en juicios.
      Confirmando la importancia de esta lista para los intérpretes, sugiero en forma general que se añadan más palabras y otros deportes. Indextram reitera lo mismo. Es increíble la cantidad de términos deportivos que son usados en las jergas policiales, etc.
      No sé cuán familiriazado estás con las jergas de las diferentes regiones (una imposibilidad), pero te advierto que los mismos términos que Tony propone, tienen diferentes traducciones, o no son traducidos, en otras regiones, incluso del mismo Méjico.
      El fútbol americano sí es muy conocido por todo el mundo.
      Mira la película de Cantinflas El Sube y Baja.
      Te tengo que sacar tarjeta amarilla por Disidencia por palabra o acción. 🙂

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