Brit Slang: 5 English Words and Phrases That Crop Up During The World Cup Every Anglophile Should Know

Photo credit: Илья Хохлов Creative Commons.

Photo credit: Илья Хохлов Creative Commons.

After another disappointing World Cup exit for the England football team, there are now plenty of words and phrases usually so prevalent during the World Cup that will, for better or worse, not feature for the remainder of the tournament. For the most part, these are terms that have come to define England’s fortunes (or relative lack thereof) at the World Cup, a competition they have won only once and one that has not seen them reach the semi-finals for 24 years. Here are 5 English Words and Phrases That Crop Up During The World Cup.

1. WAGs

The term “WAGs” is normally used in association with England and, as such, is an acronym that refers to “wives and girlfriends.” It came into wide usage in the British tabloids during England’s exploits at the 2006 World Cup in Germany, where the then England coach, Sven-Göran Eriksson, allowed the players’ other halves to stay in fairly close quarters with the team throughout England’s World Cup preparation. The term has persisted somewhat since, and has been the source of controversy, with various groups claiming the term carries sexist undertones. Notable “WAGs” include Colleen Rooney (wife of Wayne), Cheryl Cole (ex-wife of Ashley) and, most famously of all, Victoria Beckham (wife of… you know the rest).

2. Three Lions

This phrase is often used as a nickname for the England national team and has its roots in the Royal Arms of England. Historically, a trio of lions was used symbolically by Plantagenet kings in the late 12th century and, through the passage of time, has come to symbolise England as a nation. This became true of the England national football team in 1949, when the coat of arms of the Football Association was granted by the College of Arms. The football connection to the symbol was further popularised in 1996 by the song Three Lions, recorded by Britpop band The Lightning Seeds (featuring comedians Frank Skinner and David Baddiel) ahead of that year’s European Championships in England. See the music video below.

3. 1966

A lot happened in 1966: The Beatles released their seminal album Revolver; Harold Wilson’s Labour Party won another election; Ian Brady and Myra Hindley were convicted over the Moors murders; England won the World Cup. It is because of the last reason that every time England have been involved in subsequent competitions, everyone in the country—from commentators to armchair pundits, from journalists to the players themselves—mentions “1966.” That particular year has become something of a benchmark among England’s football fanatics on how to get the job done, a job the team has not emulated since that glorious day against West Germany all those years ago. It is precisely because of these repeated World Cup failures that the next phrase also appears every four years.

4. (Insert number) Years of Hurt

This term was popularised by the aforementioned song Three Lions, which served to both lament and put an end to the fact that the England football team had suffered “thirty years of hurt” since their 1966 triumph. Coming within one Paul Gascoigne stud of beating Germany in the Euro ‘96 semi-finals, the team did not end those decades of misery that year. Subsequently, the phrase (and indeed the song) emerge whenever England enter a new competition. The number, now at 48 years of hurt, is updated each time.

5. Penalty Shoot-out

While this phrase might not be exclusive to just England, it carries more painful connotations for the Three Lions than it does for any other footballing nation. This is because, statistically, England have the worst penalty shootout record in the history of the FIFA World Cup. A penalty shootout occurs when two sides are tied at the end of extra time during the competition’s knockout phase. Each side takes 5 penalty kicks and whoever scores the most is the winner (if they’re still tied after 5 kicks, they go into a sudden death scenario). Since this method of deciding a game was introduced at the 1978 World Cup, England have been eliminated on penalties three times (against West Germany in 1990, Argentina in 1998, and Portugal in 2006). They have never won a penalty shoot-out at the World Cup.

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  1. avatar says

    Always preferred World in Motion by New Order, though Fat Les’ Vindaloo is a catchy one. Besides Three lions is also the favourite song of the German fan. Maybe we should be teaching them some “Mottiespeak” eg.. It’s a game of two halves, the boy done good, and they’ll be replaying that in all bars in ####### (whatever City the teams from) Anyway better scarper, I’m half German…;-)

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