Monday, June 13, 2016

Euro 2016 and the Embarrassing Etymology of "Hooligan"

One of my favourite things in life is football, and a large portion of my time revolves around the sport. Obviously, language is also one of my favourite things. I am fond of the way language evolves and adapts, and how people and languages interact, which can result in languages borrowing words from one another.

We've done plenty of posts in the past looking at loanwords making their way into the English vernacular, but today I'd like to look at one word that has made its way into a number of other languages thanks to the deplorable behaviour of football fans. I'm of course referring to the word "hooligan".

The term is currently used in English to refer to someone who commits violent acts such as vandalism and assault, particularly as part of a group of sports fans and, above all (at least in the UK), football fans.

There are several competing ideas as to the etymology of this word. One idea is that it was the name of a fictional family in a song in the late 19th century. The name caught on, and just as the surname "Einstein" has become synonymous with intelligence, "Hooligan" became synonymous with causing trouble.

There is also the idea that it came from a gang in London known as the Hooligans (also O'Hooligans), who committed a murder in 1894. When the story was published in a newspaper, it became the first written record of the word, which later appeared in stories by Arthur Conan Doyle and H. G. Wells.

Though from a later date, there is also the idea that an Irish bouncer and thief by the name of Patrick Hoolihan or Hooligan may have led to the term's popularity.

Whatever the origins of the word, it has since become synonymous with sports. The wave of hooliganism that spread throughout England in the 1970s and 1980s popularised the term in other languages as well, especially following the Heysel Stadium Disaster where 39 people were killed. Following the tragedy, English clubs were banned (originally indefinitely) from European competitions.

I've seen the term as a loanword in various other languages around Europe. Over the weekend, the covers of a number of French newspapers were using the term to describe the deplorable behaviour of some of the English fans in Marseille for Euro 2016 this week.

While I don't like hearing the word used in a foreign language, especially in reference to English fans, it saddens me to think that the shocking actions of certain people, who have more interest in fighting than football, are perpetuating the use of the word across Europe.

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