A multilingual dictionary of soccer terms sounds like a pretty good idea. Indeed, it is
a good idea -- provided it includes the terms and the languages that really matter.
Which makes the version that UEFA is about to publish pitifully inadequate. Sure it will cover 2,000 terms -- but it will feature only three languages. And just look at the languages: English, German
There may just possibly be excuses for this extraordinary narrow-mindedness. They don't add up to much, but, for what they're worth, here they are: the publishers are
German, and the dictionary is timed to coincide with the European Championship, in which the host countries are Austria and Switzerland. So the German language makes sense for that reason. English I
suppose you can justify because it is the world's No. 1 language, and FIFA pushes its use as a lingua franca
for referees. French? Oh I don't know, with France being, along with Germany, one
of the two major powers of the European Union, probably it needs to be there for political reasons.
You will have noticed that none of the above excuses has anything to do with soccer.
Anyone sitting down to present a glossary of international soccer terms that really matter could not possibly leave out Spanish, or Portuguese.
be there because
it is the most widely spoken language among important soccer-playing countries; Portuguese must
be included because it is the language of Brazil, and because Brazil is far and away the most
important soccer country in the world. And one can certainly make a soccer case for Italian that is at least as strong as that to be made for either French or German.
to ponder: the World Cup has been won by nations speaking English, French or German just five times. It has been won by nations speaking Spanish, Italian or Portuguese 13 times.
this is not simply a question of statistics. We are told that this new dictionary will include "some of the sport's more colorful terms." I very much doubt that, but even assuming they mean colorful
in the sense of picturesque or inventive or humorous, a lot of color will be missing, because they've got the wrong languages.
In a 1996 European Championship game against Scotland, the
English player Paul Gascoigne astonished the English media by lifting the ball softly over the head of defender Colin Hendry, running round him, and volleying the ball into the net. A superb piece of
skill -- that the journalists had to describe exactly as I have done, move by move. Because, in English, there is no single word to describe that play, one that is rarely seen in English soccer. But
the Portuguese have a word for it, chapeu
, the Spanish too, sombrero
. Such ball skills are not alien to their
In my experience, Brazilian Portuguese is
the most colorful and the most inventive of the soccer languages -- to be expected, because it needs to describe the world's most inventive and colorful version of the sport.
Just one example of the banality of English terminology will do. When the English manage (as they sometimes do) to string a few passes together, they talk about "knocking the ball around."
Knocking -- a mechanical, harsh sounding word, but quite appropriate for how the English tend to play. As it happens, even the English realize that the word is not right when speaking of Brazilian
soccer; then, the phrase becomes "stroking the ball." Much nicer -- but not much used.
The flat no-frills English terminology is simply not up to reflecting the joys of soccer. (This
is a problem in this country, which tends to adopt English terms willy-nilly -- a short time spent listening to the pathetically Brit-groveling announcers on Fox Soccer Channel will confirm that.)
As a soccer publication, UEFA's trilingual dictionary is not to be taken seriously. There is the possibility that it is meant to be a joke. It will, claims a UEFA spokesman help "women who
want to really impress their husbands during Euro 2008." Yes, it may. And maybe it's best to leave it at that.