Centennial Copa América: A Tall Cup of Terminology

Once again, everybody is excited about the Centennial Copa América (or Copa América Centenario, if you prefer). Throughout the month of June, the eyes of football (Yes! “Football,” although, since the Cup is being hosted by the United States of America, perhaps we should concede and call it “soccer”) fans in Latin America are focused once again on the second most important Soccer Tournament (after the World Cup, of course) in the continent.

We will be watching a variety of teams, some better than others (soccer-wise), but most teams will have one thing in common: most national teams participating in the tournament are from Spanish-speaking countries. So, you would imagine it would be natural for the spectators to hear Latin-American TV and radio commentators narrate the games with their characteristic enthusiasm every time a goal is scored. You might also expect to hear comments about the game, the rules and the plays all with Spanish terminology, but that won’t necessarily be the case.

Spanish speakers have grown used to borrowing words from the English language, no matter the context, but especially when talking about sports; and now that the tournament is being hosted by the USA, the use of borrowed terminology will be more evident than ever before. Most Latin Americans are not against borrowing terminology from another language, they have become so used to hearing it every time they watch a game or the sports news segment that they’ve become a part of daily speech. They’ve even adopted some of these words and morphed them into Spanish, an act that is increasingly accepted by the Real Academia Española (RAE) – whose views about the changes and additions to the Spanish language tend to be strict – but are also gradually giving in to the modernization of the language.

So, the question is, if Spanish-speakers listen to Spanish-speaking commentators and news anchors, then why are they still using borrowed terminology? The answer is simple; the game of “football” was born in England and, as a result, so was its terminology. Some examples are words such as “corner (-kick)” which was adapted as córner, when maybe some purist would prefer tiro de esquina instead. You may also hear “offside” as offside (no change there), but some prefer fuera de lugar or adelantado instead. Another term which is quite common in Latin America is the use of faul (“foul” in English) which in Spanish would be translated as Falta or Infracción. And finally, a favorite of many: “hat-trick” (when a player scores three [or more] goals in one game), is also used with no change in Spanish, but, in which case, purists would choose triplete instead.

Another topic that we can highlight here is that the United States is trying to build up a World Cup buzz after hosting this Copa América, the biggest soccer showcase in the United States since the 1994 World Cup. The USA wants to show the world that even after losing the bid for the 2022 World Cup, they are ready to host another major soccer event. So get ready, because English terminology in soccer is and has been here for a while now, and we will be borrowing some more of it.

Maybe it doesn’t matter what terms you use to describe what goes on during a soccer game –even if your team does not win – you can watch, cheer and celebrate the game in any language.