A 'Soup'er Bowl Packed With Pigskin Palaver

Rob Kyff on

The lingo of American football is a soup bowl bubbling with terms from almost every realm of life, from fighting to food to finance.

Not surprisingly, its lexicon bristles with military terms such as "bomb," "blitz," "trenches" and "shotgun." The Visigoths sacked Rome and spiked the torsos of defending centurions; today's players sack quarterbacks and spike the ball.

Some teams use the "platoon" system, coaches identify the "point of attack" and outside coverage specialists are "gunners."

In a game played with the skin of a pig, it's not surprising to find references to other critters as well: horse-collar tackles, wildcat formations, pooch punts, flea-flickers and zebras.

Those zebras sometimes call penalties that sound like the scoldings of a playground schoolmarm: "unnecessary roughness!"; "unsportsmanlike conduct!" Tsk, tsk!

Some infractions sound lawyerly (illegal procedure, ineligible receiver downfield), and one even psychoanalyzes the quarterback: "intentional grounding."

Professional football is also about money, so terms such as "pay dirt," "nickel back defense" and "dime back defense" are the coin of the realm.

Speaking of backs, football has seen more backs than a chiropractor. There are quarterbacks and running backs, an entire backfield, touch backs, and crack-back blocks judged illegal by back judges. Other body parts pop up in nose guard, stiff arm, taking a knee, hand-offs and illegal use of hands.


In football, time is everything. There's a game clock, a play clock, a two-minute warning and an instant replay. Running backs are always rushing, especially during a hurry-up offense.

Football is played on a gridiron, a good place to cook up a tailgate party's worth of food. You can split a wishbone, swallow a turnover and, if you're in the mood for fish, even savor a long snapper.

It's a game of numbers (pick six, kick six); crime and punishment (bootleg, chains); terms stolen from other sports (umpire, pitchout, referee); and patriotism (flags, Statue of Liberty play).

It also features outdoor activities (hike, trap), clothing (pocket, clothesline tackle, button-hook route) and items from old-time farms (post, pump fake). And don't forget religion (Hail Mary pass) and death (coffin corner, killing the clock, dead ball).

In a sport that can be dangerous, it's somehow comforting to know that the word "safety" has two meanings (a player and a way to score) and that 300-pound men sometimes fret over "split ends."


Rob Kyff, a teacher and writer in West Hartford, Connecticut, invites your language sightings. His book, "Mark My Words," is available for $9.99 on Send your reports of misuse and abuse, as well as examples of good writing, via email to or by regular mail to Rob Kyff, Creators Syndicate, 737 3rd Street, Hermosa Beach, CA 90254.

Copyright 2024 Creators Syndicate Inc.




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