12 Favorite World Cup Words

by Angela Tung on July 8, 2014


We wouldn’t call ourselves rabid fans of soccer (or football, depending on your side of the Atlantic), but then that guy bit that other guy (and gave us Suarezing), the Colombia team danced after every goal, and Tim Howard made 16 record-breaking saves (and while he couldn’t save the U.S. team, he did save the internet). Now we’re hooked.

And we’re celebrating the best way we know how: with words. Here are 12 of our favorites from the world of the World Cup.

corridor of uncertainty

“The Netherlands could not have gone much closer when a ball scythed along the corridor of uncertainty, somehow eluding two Dutch attackers and three Costa Rica defenders, only to fall to the feet of van Persie.”

Callum Hamilton, “Netherlands vs. Costa Rica: Final score 0-0, Dutch win on penalties after dramatic finale,” SB Nation, July 5, 2014

The corridor of uncertainty is a pass delivered into the area between the goalkeeper and the last line of defense. The phrase originates from cricket and refers to “an area where a cricket ball can pitch during a delivery” and where “a batsman struggles most to determine whether to play forward or back, or whether to leave the delivery.”

According to the Oxford English Dictionary (OED), corridor of uncertainty, which seems to have originated in the mid-1980s, is particularly associated with English cricketer and commentator Geoffrey Boycott.


“First, Thomas Muller managed to fall over as he attempted to dummy the ball, before Toni Kroos played in a shocking chip that was easily swept up by the Algerian defence.”

Hannah Duncan, “Thomas Muller ‘fall’ in German free-kick ‘fail’ was all a big ruse, reveals Benedikt Howedes,” Metro, July 1, 2014

To dummy in soccer means to deceive your opponent into thinking you’re going to pass, shoot, or receive the ball, and then do something different. The OED says this term originated in the 1950s.

The meaning comes from the sense of dummy, “an imitation of a real or original object, intended to be used as a practical substitute,” which perhaps comes from the bridge or whist term referring to “an imaginary player represented by an exposed ‘hand’, managed by and serving as partner to one of the players.”

These senses seem to ultimately come from the original meaning of dummy, a dumb or mute person. The Old English dumb means “silent, unable to speak,” and comes from the Proto-Indo-European dheubh-, “confusion, stupefaction, dizziness.” Dheubh- originates from the root dheu-, “dust, mist, vapor, smoke,” perhaps with the idea of “defective perception or wits,” according to the Online Etymology Dictionary.



“The practice of the flop is a tried-and-true method of manipulating each game’s referee to make calls go your way by aggressively exaggerating fouls or the appearance of fouls.”

Eric Levenson, “Dissecting American Soccer’s Hatred of the Flop Is a World Cup Tradition,” The Wire, June 16, 2014

Flopping, also known as diving as well as simulation, if you’re FIFA, means pretending to be fouled, and is usually evinced by exaggerated falling and howls of pain.

We couldn’t find when the term flopping originated exactly. It also applies to basketball, and in 1963 Frank Ramsey described his “deceptive” techniques to Sports Illustrated, although he never calls it flopping. He says the most reliable “eye-catcher” is the pratfall. Perhaps flopping, with the idea of flopping over, comes from the these exaggerated falls.

[Photo via The Wire]



“They now take on Greece, the runners up in Group C, in a round-of-16 match in the early hours of Monday morning and will be strongly fancied to continue their giant-killing run.”

Michael Lynch, “World Cup 2014: North and Central American region provides success stories of the tournament,” The Sydney Morning Herald, June 28, 2014

Giant-killing refers to, in sports, “the defeat of a team by a much weaker opponent.” The phrase may come from the story of David and Goliath, although the OED’s earliest citations refer to “Jack the giant killer” and “giant-killing Jack” of Jack and the Beanstalk.

[Illustration: "The Chronicle of the Valiant Feats"]

group of death

“Advancing out of the Group of Death is significant, but playing in the second round of the World Cup is not.”

Mike Foss, “Just escaping the group of death isn’t good enough for the U.S. at the World Cup anymore,” USA Today, June 27, 2014

A group of death is “a group in a multi-stage tournament which is unusually competitive, because the number of strong competitors in the group is greater than the number of qualifying places available for the next phase of the tournament.”

This term may come from the Spanish grupo de la muerte, which was coined by Mexican journalists in 1970.


“A favourite of the Kop – the Liverpool faithful – Suarez enjoyed an ambivalent relationship with rest of the Premiership fans who slowly warmed to his goal-scoring abilities but never forgot his other escapades.”

Siddharth Saxena, “Fifa bites back: Suarez gets nine-match ban,” The Times of India, June 27, 2014

Kop, short for Spion Kop, refers to the stadium terraces “attended by hardcore fans, particularly in the United Kingdom.” The original Spion Kop, which translates from Afrikaans as “spy hill,” is a mountain in South Africa and the site of the Battle of Spion Kop, which was fought during the Second Boer War.

Sports stadium terraces may have first been referred to as Spion Kop in the early 1900s, shortly after the battle, which seems to pre-date the OED’s citation of 1924.

lost the dressing room

“Kiss’ appointment was welcomed by the players – Rory Best said getting Kiss was ‘brilliant for Ulster Rugby’ – but amid talk Anscombe lost the dressing room, Kiss will have to breathe new life into the province.”

Tom Hamilton, “Ulster’s knock-on effect on Ireland,” ESPN Scrum, July 3, 2014

The term lost the dressing room refers to when a sports team’s “manager is deemed to have lost control and support of the players” and may soon get fired. The term may come from the idea that it’s in the dressing or locker room that the manager raises his players’ spirits.

magic sponge

“Kicking a football [on Jupiter] would be like kicking a lump of concrete. More than the magic sponge would be needed to sort out that injury.”

Stuart Clark, “Across the Universe,” The Guardian, June 11, 2014

The magic sponge is a seemingly ordinary sponge that has a miraculous “reviving effect on injured players.” The OED says it originated around 1961:

Consider what is said of players and ‘the magic sponge’. Of how they are supposed to go down on the slightest pretence and, with scarcely a squeeze from the sponge, continue playing vigorously within a matter of seconds.


“Higuain had poked the ball through his legs to set up the shooting chance. Ouch! That’s called ‘a nutmeg in soccer.’”

Don Cuddy, “On the World Cup: Costa Rica Nearly Pulls off Historic Upset,” South Coast Today, July 6, 2014

The nutmeg is a technique used in “soccer, field hockey or basketball, in which a player rolls or throws the ball through an opponent’s legs.” The OED’s earliest citation is from 1968:

Three times I pushed the ball between the legs of the same full-back. This is the worst thing a forward can do to a defender because it makes him look foolish; and if, as I did, the forward then shouts ‘Nut Meg’ (the traditional taunt) the defender’s ego takes a sharp knock.

It’s not clear why this maneuver is called the nutmeg. Wikipedia offers a few theories: that it comes from slang meaning of nutmeg as “testicles”; that nutmeg is Cockney rhyming slang for leg; and that nutmeg at one point came to mean duping someone because nutmegs “were such a valuable commodity that unscrupulous exporters were to pull a fast one by mixing a helping of wooden replicas into the sacks being shipped to England.”



“Then, with no-one around him and time to pick out a man, he went for an unnecessary, extravagant rabona pass.”

Sam Cunningham, “Angel Di Maria played one of the worst match-winning performances in history,” The Daily Mail, July 2, 2014

A rabona is “a method of kicking the football whereby the kicking leg is wrapped around the back of the standing leg.” (Not clear on what that means? This compilation might help.)

Apparently the first to perform the rabona was Argentina’s Ricardo Infante in 1948, and the Argentinian magazine, El Grafico, was the first to come up with the term. Their cover showed Infante (which means “infant” in Spanish) “dressed as a pupil with the caption ‘Infante played hooky,’” where rabona means to play hooky or skip school.

[Photo via Flickr, CC BY 2.0 by Kiernan Clarke]



Tifos are sort of a continental European thing — you’ll especially see the Italians throwing up large choreographed displays to show their support for their teams.”

Kathy Willens, “Where is Soccer City, USA?” Kens5.com, June 16, 2014

A tifo is “a form of choreography displayed by supporters on the terraces of an arena or stadium, where they make a large-scale pattern or picture by holding up, or wearing, various materials.”

The tifo originated in Italy and Southern Europe, and is a shortened form of tifosi, Italian for “fans.” See also Ultras.

[Photo via Flickr, CC BY 2.0 by psmag.net]


“In its six years of global supremacy, [the Spanish team] perfected an innovative way of playing the game, known as tiki-taka, which has players string together a series of rapid, short passes, many of them on first touch, denying their opponents the ball for long periods and, ultimately, wearing them down.”

John Cassidy, “Adios to the tiki-taka men,” The New Yorker, June 18, 2014

Tiki-taka is soccer style “characterised by short passing and movement, working the ball through various channels, and maintaining possession.” The word tiki-taka is imitative and may translate as “touch-touch” in Spanish.

While the term was already in colloquial use in Spanish football, perhaps originating with retired midfielder Javier Clement, Spanish broadcaster Spanish broadcaster Andrés Montes is credited with coining and popularizing the phrase.

[Lead photo via The Telegraph]

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The Words of ‘Game of Thrones,’ Season 4

by Angela Tung on June 16, 2014



Another season of Game of Thrones has ended, and with it many lives — and many shits — were lost. But we kept our heads all season (see what we did there) and have compiled for you this handy glossary. Enjoy!

Book of Brothers

Joffrey [to Jaime]: “So this is the famous Book of Brothers. All the great deeds of all the great Kingsguard, huh?

“Two Swords,” April 6, 2014

The Book of Brothers, also called the White Book (after the white cloaks of the Kingsguard), “is the tome that records the deeds of every knight who has ever served in the three hundred year history of the Kingsguard.” In the Book of Brothers, Jaime has only half a page, as Joffrey helpfully points out.

Children of the Forest

Child of the Forest: “The first men called us the Children, but we were born long before them.”

“The Children,” June 15, 2014

The Children of the Forest are a mysterious race of creatures “that were reportedly the original inhabitants of the continent of Westeros.” and have been written off by most as mythic or extinct.

UPDATE: Jennifer Vineyard at Slate has a lot more on the Children of the Forest. The Children of the Forest are the ones who planted the weirwood heart trees “and carved the faces in them, so they could keep watch,” who “helped fight back the White Walkers during the Long Night,” and “gave the Night’s Watch the dragonglass to keep [the White Walkers] at bay.

The Citadel

Prince Oberyn: “The King was poisoned.”
Lord Tywin: “I hear you studied poisons at the Citadel.”
Prince Oberyn: “I did. This is why I know.”

“Breaker of Chains,” April 20, 2014

The Citadel is the seat of the Order of Maesters, “‘an order of scholars, healers, and learned men’ who focus on scientific knowledge and have only a ‘disdaining belief in magic.’”

The common citadel refers to “a fortress in a commanding position in or near a city,” or “a stronghold or fortified place; a bulwark.” The word comes from the Italian cittadella, diminutive of città, “city.”

Craster’s Keep

Jon Snow: “Brothers, I’m going beyond the Wall to Craster’s Keep. I’m going to capture the mutineers holed up there. Or kill them.”

“Oathkeeper,” April 27, 2014

Craster’s Keep is the “small, fortified homestead of” Craster, a wildling who has the habit of taking his own daughters as his wives and sacrificing his sons to the White Walkers.


Bronn: “How many Dornishmen does it take to fuck a goat?”

“Two Swords,” April 6, 2014

Dorne is a “constituent region” of the Seven Kingdoms, with “a unique culture, law, and ethnic background.” The Dornish “have more ‘relaxed’ views towards sexuality and love than the rest of Westeros,” including holding paramours, or the unmarried lovers of noble men and women, in the same regard as spouses; having no particular stigma against homosexuality; and raising bastards without stigma and alongside “their trueborn siblings and cousins.”

These “relaxed” views are probably what perpetuates jokes about Dornishmen having sexual relations with livestock.

Drowned God

Theon Greyjoy: “I am your prince. I swear it by the Drowned God. What is dead may never die.”

“The Mountain and the Viper,” June 1, 2014

The Drowned God is worshiped by the inhabitants of the Iron Islands, “one of the few regions in Westeros not abiding by the main religion of the Seven Kingdoms, the Faith of the Seven.” The North is another such region, “where the worship of the Old Gods of the Forest remains strong.”

What is dead may never die is the start of a common prayer that has the responding line, “But rises again, harder and stronger.”


Janos Slynt [as Giants approach the gate of the Wall]: “No such thing as Giants. Stories for the children.”

“The Watchers on the Wall,” June 8, 2014

Giants are thought by many to be the stuff of myth. However, as evinced by this episode, they exist “in the furthest north Beyond the Wall.” It’s said that Hodor, a “simpleminded” yet gargantuan servant from House Stark, is part giant.

Apparently, Giants “are very shy” but “their shyness can quickly turn into rage.” Moreover, the Free Folk, or wildlings, “believe giants were enslaved with magic to get them to build the Wall.”

The characteristics of giants differ across various mythologies. While in Norse and Welsh myths, giants are, well, gigantic, in ancient Greek tales, they “were a race of great strength and aggression, though not necessarily of great size.”

Gigantomachy, which comes from a Greek phrase meaning “giant battle,”  is “the mythological war of the giants against Zeus, symbolizing the antagonism between terrestrial and oceanic and celestial forces.”

Iron Bank of Braavos

Ser Davos: “I suppose if you work for the Iron Bank of Braavos, and each one of your gold bars is worth half a kingdom, you tend not to be overly concerned with the kind of distinction. . . .I need you to write a message.”

“Breaker of Chains,” April 20, 2014

The Iron Bank of Braavos is “the most powerful financial institution in the Known World,” and says of clients who fail to pay back their loans, “the Iron Bank will have its due.”

Find out how the Iron Bank stacks up against powerful real-life financial institutions.


Stannis Baratheon: “You’re the King-Beyond-the-Wall? Do you know who I am?”

“The Children,” June 15, 2014

The King-Beyond-the-Wall is Mance Rayder, the leader of the Free Folk or wildlings. He has managed “to unite a significant number of the northern tribes under his command, enough to pose a threat to the Seven Kingdoms south of the Wall.”

Moon Door

Robin: “It was already ruined because it didn’t have a Moon Door! I was fixing it!”

“Mockingbird,” May 18, 2014

The Moon Door is located in the floor of The Eyrie, the “principal stronghold of House Arryn,” which sits atop a mountain. The Moon Door opens to reveal a very long drop and is the execution of choice for Lady Arryn, ironically enough.

Lady Arryn has said that those dropped through the Moon Door “break apart.” However, according to Time, if the distance from the Moon Door to the ground below is “more than 2,000 feet,” the faller “would reach 125 miles per hour, which means broken bones and near-certain death — but not necessarily breaking into pieces.”

In addition, “such a fall wouldn’t be a 100% guarantee of death”:

During World War II, for example, there were lots of people falling out of burning airplanes — and, though many of them died, a lucky few survived, often thanks to a combination of factors that slowed their falls.

However, we doubt that Lady Arryn will be making a comeback.

Purple Wedding

“Aside from the bridegroom’s customary torture-tainment, everyone was on their best behavior … until the wine started flowing, and we realized why fans have dubbed this the Purple Wedding.”

Drusilla Moorhouse, “‘Game of Thrones’ kicks off a murder mystery with the Purple Wedding,” Today, April 13, 2014

The Purple Wedding refers to the wedding between King Joffrey and Margaery Tyrell, which takes place during the episode, “The Lion and the Rose.” The wedding is so-called by fans of the A Song of Fire and Ice novels due to the poisoned wine that is used to kill Joffrey and the association of the color purple with royalty. The televised version plays this up: Joffrey’s face turns a grotesque shade of purple as he dies.

Why is purple associated with royalty? Back in the day, purple dye was expensive and difficult to make. According to Live Science, the dye initially used to make the color purple was obtained “from a small mollusk that was only found in the Tyre region of the Mediterranean Sea.”

Like the Red Wedding, the Purple Wedding was inspired by a historical event. A Song of Fire and Ice author George R.R. Martin explained to Entertainment Weekly that he based Joffrey’s death “on the death of Eustace, the son of King Stephen of England.” Eustace “choked to death at a feast,” which people are still debating about a thousand of years later: “Did he choke to death or was he poisoned?”


Cersei Lannister: “Can’t say I’ve ever met a Sand before. I’m not quite sure what to call you.”
Ellaria Sand: “‘Ellaria’ works for everyone else.”

“Two Swords,” April 6, 2014

Each House in Westeros has a special name for their noble-born bastards, children born out of wedlock between a noble and non-noble. The monikers each have to do with geographic characteristics of each house or region: Snow for the North; Waters for The Crownlands; and Sand for Dorne.

In England during Anglo-Saxon times, “the descendants of kings were called aethelings, whether legitimate or not.” Those born “illegitimately,” also known as royal bastards, often had the surname Fitzroy, which ultimately comes from the Latin fils, son, and regalis (by way of the French roial), “of a king, kingly, royal, regal.”

Slaver’s Bay

Daenerys: “How can I rule seven kingdoms if I can’t control Slaver’s Bay?”

“First of His Name,” May 4, 2014

Slaver’s Bay is “the hub of the international slave trade” and may be based on the slave coast of Africa.


Tormund Giantsbane: “Thenns. I fucking hate Thenns.”

“Two Swords,” April 6, 2014

The Thenns are an advanced and disciplined wildling tribe, who engage in “self-scarification as well as cannibalism, feasting on the flesh of their enemies.” Evidence has been found that real-life ancient Britons also engaged in cannibalism, perhaps for the purpose of removing competing groups and getting more food, and of gaining the enemy’s power.

trial by combat

Tyrion: “I will not give my life for Joffrey’s murder and I know I’ll get no justice here. So I will let the gods decide my fate. I demand a trial by combat.”

“The Laws of Gods and Men,” May 11, 2014

Trial by combat is, according to Tyrion Lannister, “deciding a man’s guilt or innocence in the eyes of the gods by having two other men hack each other to pieces.” But the practice has real medieval history.

According to The Atlantic, in ancient England, trials by ordeal were more common than trials by combat. Such ordeals included:

pluck[ing] a stone from a cauldron of boiling water, oil, or lead; if their skin didn’t burn off, they were judged innocent. In other cases, the guilty were believed to be those who suffered grave injuries from walking across hot iron, or ingesting poison.

Injuries from walking across hot iron or ingesting poison? You mean like any normal person? It seems that if you were sentenced to trial by ordeal, you were SOL.

Trial by combat, The Atlantic continues, “happened less frequently…but persisted in history for longer.” A historical example is that “of a Flemish murder inquiry in the 12th century that was resolved in a duel distinctly recalling the one” on Game of Thrones,” in which when opponent was about “to deliver the coup de grâce,” the other “reached up and grabbed [his] testicles, held on to them tight, and then shoved [the man] aside without loosening his grip.” The man with “all his ‘lower parts broken apart’” had to admit defeat.


Daenerys [to Ser Jorah Mormont]: “Why did the Usurper pardon you?”

“The Mountain and the Viper,” June 1, 2014

Usurper “is a derogative term that refers to individuals who have seized power in opposition to a ‘legitimate’ or ‘rightful’ ruler.” It’s also what Daenerys, her brother, and House Targaryen loyalists call King Robert Baratheon, who took the Targaryen throne by force.

The word usurper comes from the Latin usurpare, “to seize for use, to use.”

white cloak

Sir Tywin [to Jaime]: “You’ll remove your white cloak immediately. You will leave King’s Landing to assume your rightful place at Casterly Rock. You will marry a suitable woman and father children named Lannister, and you’ll never turn your back on your family again.”

“The Laws of Gods and Men,” May 11, 2014

Members of the Kingsguard, “an elite group of seven knights” whose sworn duty “is to protect the king and the royal family from harm at all times,” dress in “gold plate and scale armor with white detailing and white armor,” thus gaining the nicknames, White Swords or White Cloaks.

The Kingsguard are like the Night’s Watch in that they “are sworn for life and are forbidden from owning land, taking a wife, or fathering children.” But while the Kingsguard are “supposedly the greatest and most skilled warriors in all of Westeros,” the Night’s Watch — who dress all in black, and thus are also called crows or black brothers — are “comprised of criminals avoiding corporal punishment or nobles avoiding scandal.”

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The Words of ‘Mad Men’: brunch, the four Ps, Mary Wells

May 28, 2014

There’s only half a season left of Mad Men! We couldn’t mess around and lose our second to last chance to share our favorite words from the show. brunch Margaret: “I’d like to have brunch Sunday morning.” Roger: “Sure, that’d be nice. I’ll bring vodka.” “Time Zones,” April 13, 2014 While brunch, a combo of […]

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The Reverb App, Now Available for the iPhone!

May 20, 2014

Of course we love the iPad. It’s within arm’s reach, if not right in front of our faces, when we watch TV or unwind before bed. But it’s our iPhones that we turn to throughout the day, whether it’s first thing in the morning, on our commutes to and from work, or during lunch or […]

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10 Phrases That Come from Horse Racing

May 1, 2014

This weekend marks the 140th running of the Kentucky Derby. While last year we celebrated with hat words, this year we’re rounding up now-common phrases that you might not know come from horse racing. And we’re off! across the board Across the board, meaning “pertaining to all categories or things,” originated around 1903 as a […]

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The Selfie Variations

April 30, 2014

It was the Oxford Dictionaries’ 2013 Word of the Year and has shown no signs of slowing down: the selfie. The term selfie was apparently invented by an Australian man who took a drunk self-portrait (a drelfie, if you will). There’s no lack of other selfie types: the funeral selfie; the plane crash selfie; the […]

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The Reverb App: Now Even More Collection-y

April 10, 2014

You know that we at Wordnik love collections. After all, a dictionary is basically a huge collection of words, and lists — of which we have at last count almost 47,000 — are just mini-collections. So we’re extra excited that our sister product, Reverb, is now offering user collections. In case you didn’t know, Reverb […]

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