fbpx The language of Euro 2016 | The Memrise Blog

The language of Euro 2016

By Memrise Blog

   In the spirit of the Football Tournament that has taken over Europe, Richard, this month’s guest blogger, thought it relevant to take a look at the football language of each remaining team in the race, apart from one, who can guess which one?

Europe. When you think about it, it’s great isn’t it? All those languages and cultures bouncing off one another, interacting and intertwining in such a small space. What’s not to like?

So Euro 2016 is a particular treat, throwing up all kinds of interesting vocab, sayings and cultural tidbits for the discerning viewer.


The Germans treat their football a lot like their language. Both start from solid foundations, but use that as the basis for all kinds of expression and invention. And being a national obsession, there are many footballing terms that have passed beyond the pitch and into wider use:

  • The arse card (Arschkarte): “To get the arse card” is to be sent off, or more generally to have something particularly bad happen to you. It comes from the fact that the referee keeps the red card in his back pocket, next to his backside
  • Keep the ball down low” (den Ball flach halten): meaning hold your horses, don’t be hasty
  • To give a through ball” (eine Steilvorlage geben): to put something on a plate for someone

But all that structure doesn’t necessarily stem the tide of cliché that comes with the language of football. Patrick Funk is famous for his philosophical remark that “left is similar to right, just on the other side” (Links ist ähnlich wie rechts, nur auf der anderen Seite). Hard to argue with, really.


We love Italy, and the unique approach they take to the language of football. Where most languages have adopted the word panenka, Italian has the colpo a cucchiaio (spoon shot). While the rabona has caught on in the majority of footballing tongues, the Italians talk of the incrociata (‘crossed kick’). And when it comes to describing the game itself, where most nations use some variation on ‘football’, Italy has calcio.

They also have the Zona Cesarini. Named after 1930s player Renato Cesarini, this originally referred to a goal scored in the last minute. Nowadays it has many uses for something achieved or saved at the death, which is said to be have been done “in the Zona Cesarini”.


Food is a big deal in the French language of football. Quelle surprise. A café crème is any move which humiliates your opponent, while a caviaris a particularly fine pass leading to a chance.

The French also love a nickname, going back to Le Divin Chauve (“The Divine Baldie” – Barthez), Le Président (Laurent Blanc), Zizou (Zidane) and Titi (Thierry Henry). Today, Blaise Matuidi’s style of play has earned him the nickname Charo (“Scavenger”), while Paul Pogba is creating a brand around the name Pogboom.


Icelanders take pride in the heritage of their language, which has changed little in over 1,000 years. There will always be fresh ideas in need of naming, though, and Icelandic is adept at creating new vocabulary from old words.

When football was first making waves at the turn of the 20th century, it went by the word “fótbolti”, a direction translation of ‘football’. This wasn’t Icelandic enough, though, and the word knattspyrnawas created and quickly adopted. Knattspyrna literally means “ball-kick“, with both parts of the word being sophisticated terms in their own rights.

  • Iceland is also fond of its butter. To butter the ball (smyrja or smyrja boltanum) is when a shot shaves the post on the way in.
  • Continuing down the culinary path, when you show the other team what you’re really made of you “take them to the bakery” (taka þá í bakaríið).
  • A bicycle kick is known as a “bicycle horse kick” (hjólhestaspyrna), which most likely comes from the fact that bicycles were given the name hjólhestaror “horses on wheels” when they first came to Iceland.


Polish often seems as though it is governed by its whispering sz, zhand cz sounds, but it is equally big on growling, rolling R noises. The Polish love a diminutive, formed in all manner of ways, from to  –kato –czka to  –enkato –ekto a dozen or so others.

Pronunciation can be a tricky beast. Borussia Dortmund clocked this, so when they signed Jakub Błaszczykowski they decided to make life easier for the German public by just using the nickname “Kuba” on his shirt. Probably for the best, all told.

But if you can get your mouth round it, Polish is host to some very pleasing expressions. “The referee is a boot” (sędzia kalosz) dates make to a match against Czechoslovakia in 1931, when a watching dignitary was so disgusted by a refereeing decision that he lobbed his boot at the hapless man in black. A count went cold-footed, and a chant was born.


In Portuguese there is a single word for the language of football. This shows the esteem in which the country holds both things, and we heartily approve. The word in question is futebolês. Portuguese uses the suffix -êsto denote languages – português, francês, inglês – and here it neatly describes the country’s lyrical obsession with the game, which produces some outstanding turns of phrase, and the occasional verbal mishap.

Ex-international player João Pinto produced our favourite,stating that “my club was at the edge of a precipice, but they made the right decision and took a step forward.”
O meu clube estava a’ beira do precipício, mas tomou a decisão correcta: Deu um passo em frente.


While Gareth Bale is having plenty of success with his straight-ahead thunderbolts, if he were to give his free kicks a more sensual curl, it would be known in Welsh as a crymanu. This comes from the noun cryman, meaning “scythe”, and gives a nice visual idea of the arc a well-struck dead ball should take.

Despite centuries of cultural oppression, the Welsh language continues to be used in the country, with Joe Allen, Aaron Ramsey, Ben Davies and Owain Fôn Williams all fluent. It can look impenetrable to outsiders, though, which may be why some of Aaron Ramsey’s followers confused his tweets in Welsh for him being drunk.

Best of luck to the remaining teams! Let the best one win!


Richard Furlong is interested in three things: football, language and writing. He has combined those things into a blog – the Language of Football – which is slowly becoming his obsession.

He loves the excitement of learning, and speaks English, French and Spanish to varying degrees of hilarity. His next big challenge is to find a way to turn those obsessions of his into some kind of career.

#nerdy #linguist #writer

Read more from Richard here and follow him on Twitter!