10 American football slang terms to sound like a fan

10 American football slang terms to sound like a fan

by Alison Maciejewski Cortez

Updated May 10, 2022

American football is a big deal in the United States. It comes with a whole set of football slang and vocabulary that can make your head spin. 

It’s such a big part of American culture, that Americans will use football slang in their everyday speech. 

Whether you’re a sports fan or not, you need to know some American football terms. In this article, we’ll cover the background, basics and language of the sport.

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Football in American Culture

Americans go crazy for American football. It is, by far, the most popular sport in the USA by revenue and viewership. Each game averages over 17 million TV viewers and the total revenue of the 32 National Football League (NFL) teams is 15 billion annually. 

It’s not just professional American football either. College or university football is also wildly popular. In some parts of the United States, high school football draws huge crowds and even tailgating parties.

A lot of football jargon comes from the set plays, types of players and the field. To get an idea of some American football slang, you need a basic understanding of how American football is played.

Basic American football rules

There are two teams with 11 players on the field. The game is played in four 15-minute quarters. The goal is to move the ball into the opponent’s “end-zone” by passing or running with the ball. 

The team with the ball will have four chances or “downs” to move the ball 10 yards. If they make it, the count resets and they have 4 more downs to move the ball 10 yards. If they fail, the ball is turned over to the other team.

Most commonly-used American football slang terms

Now that you know how American football is played, let’s go over some football lingo that will have you sounding like a true American football fan.

Offensive/defensive line

On a football team, there are two different teams: the offensive line and defensive line. The offensive line plays when the team has the ball and the defensive line plays when they don’t. In between possessions, teams sit on the sidelines.

Pig skin

This is the football itself. Nowadays the football is made from cow leather and rubber, but it used to be made with inflated pig bladders.

1st and 10

This is the first chance or “down” that a team has to move the ball 10 yards. It means the team is at the beginning of play.

Line of scrimmage

This is the imaginary line where the football last touched the ground. Neither team can cross the line until the next play has started.

Super Bowl

The biggest football game of the year, the Super Bowl is the championship game between the winners of the two leagues or “conferences” of the NFL.

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American football lingo in everyday language

Americans start watching and playing American football at a young age, so football slang is a part of normal everyday language in the USA.

Along with the terms above, here are more American football terms and phrases that Americans use in normal conversation.

American Football SlangMeaningExample
Hail Mary A long forward pass made in desperate situations. Americans will use this term to describe an action in any desperate situation where there is a small chance of success.“Applying to the CEO position was a hail mary, but at least I tried.”
TouchdownWhen a football team moves the ball into the opponent’s end-zone to score 6 points. Americans use this term to mean “success.”“Your presentation today was a real touchdown.”
SidelineThe area to stand for team members who aren’t playing. In American English, it is used to mean no involvement or no participation.“I’m tired of being sidelined from all the important meetings.”
QuarterbackThe offensive player who is responsible for starting play and throwing the ball. In everyday English, it means to lead, drive or take responsibility for something.“I quarterbacked that whole project.”
Run interferenceTo protect the player with the ball from the other team’s defensive players. In everyday use, it means to help.“Don’t worry, I’ll run interference with mom and explain your situation.”

American football slang everywhere

You’ll hear American football slang everywhere in the United States. From the stadium to the conference room, understanding football basics can help you unlock some of these common American expressions.

If you can use American football terms and phrases in your everyday life, you’ll sound like a real fan.

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Alison Maciejewski Cortez is Chilean-American, born and raised in California. She studied abroad in Spain, has lived in multiple countries, and now calls Mexico home. She believes that learning how to order a beer in a new language reveals a lot about local culture. Alison speaks English, Spanish, and Thai fluently and studies Czech and Turkish. Her tech copywriting business takes her around the world and she is excited to share language tips as part of the Lingoda team. Follow her culinary and cultural experiences on Twitter.

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