“They Can’t ALL Be Called ‘Footy’!” Establishing a Normative Linguistic Framework for Australia’s Diverse Football Codes

I’ve just left hospital after having surgery on my hip and the taxi driver asked how I hurt myself. This is the brief exchange that ensued:

 Me: “Playing footy”

 Driver: “Oh that’s bad, who do you play rugby for?”

 Me: “No, football”

 Driver: “Ah, AFL. Tough game.

 Me: “No, I mean soccer”

 Driver: “Oh”

I am tired, hungry and irritable – probably due to the morphine wearing off – and the last thing my brain wants to do is engage is conversation, especially around semantics.

As I sit in the back of the taxi, eyes closed, feigning sleep to avoid further conversation, I start thinking: why is the meaning of the word “footy” dependent on the area code you are in?

'Football' can have a wildly different meaning, depending on where you're from.
‘Football’ can have a wildly different meaning, depending on where you’re from.

It’s the 21st century, and yes, we have a crowded domestic market for footballing codes, but why do we use the same word to describe four very different sports? Haven’t we figured out yet that different things ought to have their own names? You know, like the thing you put in your petrol tank is called petrol, not orange juice. By labelling things we can bring order to the world, and thus prevent unnecessary accidents, like putting OJ in your Corolla.

Australians are supposed to love sport, but if we love it so much, how come we haven’t arrived at a consensus on what we call our codes? Why are they all called footy? My leg hurts, my brain is foggy and all I want is a bit of clarity.

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We’ve put up with this for too long. It’s times to end the ambiguity and decide on new names for AFL, rugby league, rugby union and soccer/football. Below I have proposed a new set of names for the big four codes.

Before starting, a few key points. As everyone wants to be known as “football”, nobody shall be known as “football” or even its cheeky diminutive “footy”. If the four codes can’t agree on who owns the term, none of them can have it. Our cultural lexicon will be poorer, but on the plus side, in its place we will have some fresh, new terms.

This is the first thing that comes up when I type 'footy' into Google Images. But why?
This is the first thing that comes up when I type ‘footy’ into Google Images. But why?

Further, the names I propose are a starting point for a discussion, so let’s consider them flexible. The point is to get a new linguistic framework out there. We can debate the specifics later.

Here we go:

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L’vraissance (formerly known as rugby league)

Rugby league’s modern history can be described as one protracted attempt to camouflage its ugliness with a cheap veneer of class. Like a 14-year-old teenager showering himself with Lynx deodorant to attract “chicks,” rugby league has failed abysmally. It stinks and there are no women anywhere.

So why not do away with the term “rugby league” and embrace a french word. After all, what is more classy than the French language? Here I have suggested L’vraissance, a word I have clearly made up but sounds vaguely Gaelic. Because the only thing classier than French language is ignorant people poorly imitating it…

Example: “YIEWWWW! Welcome to the L’vraissance State of Origin VXII: The Clash of the Big, Beefy Behemoths”

Rugby league will achieve instant class with a French-sounding name
Rugby league will achieve instant class with a French-sounding name

Marngrook (formerly known as AFL)

Since European settlement/colonisation/insert politically volatile verb, it’s fair to say that Indigenous Australians have had a pretty poor run of things. The least we can do is start calling AFL “Marngrook”, given its roots in the traditional game of the same name played by aboriginal tribes.

Yes it’s tokenistic, but so is acknowledging the first peoples in the Australian Constitution. Sometimes tokenism isn’t a bad thing. It’s better than outright hostility or neglect. And it’s fucken sport, after all. If anyone can be tokenistic and get away with it, it’s sport.

Example: “Dale kicked seven goals and had four disposals in today’s marngrook game. One day he’ll be a great marngrooker for Hawthorn.”

Hanky Panky (formerly known as soccer)

“The World Game” is too clunky a term for such an elegant, yet whimsical game. I call it elegant, because it doesn’t involve much more than ball and feet. I call it whimsical as a coping mechanism to deal with a sport that continually throws up absurd results, promotes theatrics and is run by a society of comical super-villains (see Blatter, S, et al.).

Is there anyone more comically villainous than this bloke?
Is there anyone more comically villainous than this bloke?

I am proposing we rename this game as “hanky panky”. It’s light-hearted, playful and in some quarters means “sex”, which is pretty much represents how important soccer is in the lives of the vast majority of the world’s population.

Example: “I don’t want Julian playing rugby; it’s too rough. I’ve signed him up for a season of hanky panky instead”.

Privileges (formerly known as rugby union)

Rugby union is the code in most need of a name change. Most of the bankers and corporate executives who comprise the game’s “fans” do not believe in the right of (labour) unions to exist. So the term “union” sticks out like a public school student at St John’s College.

Things like workers’ rights and fair wages are a real handbrake on investor returns. Such a pesky annoyance should not be associated with the 1 per cent’s favourite sporting pastime.

This image does not accurately represent the elite 1%.
This image does not accurately represent the elite 1%.

“Privileges” is a far better term. In essence, it is closer to the heart of rugby union – a game in which privilege, such as attending a prestigious private school, living in a wealthy neighbourhood and having a father employed as an executive at a major legal firm, is closely associated with credibility within the game

Example: “Let’s go play a game of privileges after rowing practice, chaps!”

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So there we have it: a new set of terms to describe the four major footballing codes in Australia. While you may not agree with the new names, at the very least you should acknowledge the premise on which this article is built: our collective national failure to devise new, separate names for our favourite sports.

Whatever the case, next time a cab driver asks me how I hurt my hip, I’m telling him it was due to a rough game of “hanky panky”.

By Ben Shine

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