All the Sports Words Only Americans Use


To many Americans, Super Bowl Sunday is synonymous with junk food, cheering, the best new commercials, and possibly the sensation of winning (or losing) a war. People in other countries sometimes wonder if the prize is a very large bowl.

It’s not just the fascination with football that befuddles non-Americans—it’s the very words we use to describe it. That goes for sports-related words in general, especially when we compare certain terms in American English to their British counterparts.

In other words, a Yank may queue for gridiron and go barmy in the stands as if he’s got bugger all to do but watch the match, but lads from Blighty think that’s bollocks. And if you don’t know what that means, we’ve got you covered with this handy list of American sports words and their British equivalents. If you just can’t get enough football (or if you secretly think words are more interesting), this is the list to get you through the sports event of the year.

General Sports Words

Sports vs. Sport That’s right: the language barrier starts with what to call the whole category of athletics. Americans watch sports. British folk watch sport. We’ve got a lot of ground to cover.

Game vs. Match The Super Bowl is also called “the Big Game.” We can only assume a British championship would be called “the Oversized Match.”

Team vs. Club “My favorite football team is the Raiders,” says an Oaklander. “My football club is the Gunners,” says a Brit rooting for Arsenal (though someone from a rival team might call them “Gooners”). Another British football quirk: many fans call their teams—er, clubs—by nicknames rather than their official titles.

Defense vs. Defence It means the same thing: the opposite of “offense” (or if you’re in the U.K., “offence”). British English just spells some things differently. (Want more British spelling variations? Learn about canceled vs. cancelled, favorite vs. favourite, and other ways our Englishes are different.)

Zero-zero vs. Nil-nil If both teams have good defense, the score might be zero-zero. But if they have good defence (note the British spelling), then the score will be nil-nil.

Shutout vs. Clean Sheet In the U.S., a “shutout” is a game in which one team doesn’t score at all. In the U.K., the goalkeeper (not goalie) is said to “keep a clean sheet” if he’s kept the other team’s score at nil.

Tie vs. Draw It could be zero-zero, nil-nil, or ten-ten (no changes there); if both teams have the same score at the end of the game, that’s called a “tie” for Americans and a “draw” for the British.

Field vs. Pitch The thing you play on, if you’re playing in the U.S., is a field. In the U.K., it’s a pitch—not to be confused by what a baseball pitcher (bowler) throws at a batter (batsman) in the game of baseball (that one’s still baseball, though Brits prefer cricket).

Sideline vs. Touchline Either type of line designates the boundaries of the field. Idiom bonus: if a player is unable to play, you can say “that player has been sidelined.”

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