English Language & Usage Stack Exchange is a question and answer site for linguists, etymologists, and serious English language enthusiasts. Join them; it only takes a minute:

Sign up
Here's how it works:
  1. Anybody can ask a question
  2. Anybody can answer
  3. The best answers are voted up and rise to the top

We know that you need a ball to play cricket, golf, or tennis, and we refer to the balls used in those sports as "cricket ball", "golf ball" and "tennis ball" respectively: you take the name of the sport and then add the word "ball".

But as "football" is the name of the sport itself, why isn't a football referred to as a "football ball"? The same applies to "netball ball", "basketball ball" and "volleyball ball" of course.

share|improve this question
IMO Because they already have ball at end. The same thing is observed in grammar too. Like, the plural of grass can't be called grasss because grass already has s at its last, instead es is used to pluralify the word whose end are already s. – Santosh Kumar Apr 30 '12 at 7:32
People don't like to repeat themselves? – Mitch Dec 19 '12 at 3:57

Your question implies that football properly describes the game and, by extension, the ball itself. I wasn't sure, so I checked and it is indeed the case historically. Etymonline says:

open-air game, first recorded c. 1400. Forbidden in a Scottish statute of 1424. The first reference to the ball itself is late 15th century.

So, usage of the term to refer to the ball instead of the game is quite old, but it still took more than a century after the name of the game was established. Nothing is said of the reasons we don't say “football ball”, so I assume that it was the obvious: to avoid unwarranted repetition.

share|improve this answer
+1 for: "I assume that it was the obvious: to avoid unwarranted repetition." – user8568 May 14 '11 at 10:26
I was about to answer that it's -obvious- that the games are named after the ball, but inspection shows that is not universal. 'Golfball', (american) 'soccer ball', 'ping pong ball'. First comes the name of the game, then the name of the ball. And repeating 'ball' is just ludicrous. – Mitch May 14 '11 at 17:00
@Mitch: It's not that "ludicrous". There are hundreds of instances of "a baseball ball" and "a football ball" in Google Books, and I bet there will be many thousands more on the Internet at large. – FumbleFingers Dec 18 '12 at 17:24
@FumbleFingers: Ludicrous != nonexistent. Those are all silly. – Mitch Dec 18 '12 at 18:11

I think we don't say ball twice because it would be redundant to do so.

The name of the game lets you know that you are playing a ballgame, a pastime that requires one to put a ball in motion.

So we just name the ball with the game name to show that a specialized ball appropriate for that game is needed to play it.

share|improve this answer

In reading the question, I realized that in basketball, football (American and English), volleyball, the ball is virtually the only equipment (ignoring safety equipment) that is used. Whereas in golf, tennis, cricket there is always another critical component, i.e., club, racket, bat.

(An exception to this would be the game of baseball.)

share|improve this answer

Your Answer


By posting your answer, you agree to the privacy policy and terms of service.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.