Headbutt is a British term, how do you say the same thing in American English? I am interested in both the verb and the noun.

  • 3
    Unless in the UK it means something other than whacking someone else's head with one's own head, it's the same in the US.
    – 1006a
    Dec 27 '18 at 18:04
  • @1006a all the dictionaries say it is British and merriam webster doesn't have it. I wonder why. Thanks.
    – Happy
    Dec 27 '18 at 18:05
  • I imagine it originated in the UK, but it's a pretty transparent combination of two common words with the plain meaning of those two words combined, so it transfers easily. I do associate it slightly with so-called (in the US) British "soccer hooligans", but that's because of a stereotype associating the action with British "hooliganism"; we don't really have a better term for when American knuckleheads do it. Compare the idiom butt heads, which Oxford Dictionaries lists as American.
    – 1006a
    Dec 27 '18 at 18:21
  • It's also called a 'Glasgow kiss'.
    – Nigel J
    Dec 27 '18 at 19:14
  • I had no idea it could be any different in the U.S. until I saw this question. (I am a native North American.) I am honestly surprised it's not in M-W. But this dictionary entry says it's a valid U.S. word. And most of the sources I've found don't mention anything about the word being British. Since I'm doing my searches in the U.S., if the word were exclusively British, this would be explicitly pointed out.
    – John Y
    Dec 27 '18 at 22:50

The meaning of the constituent words head and butt are obvious enough, and the concept of butting heads is quite commonplace, so no American native speaker would likely be confused by the compound term headbutt.

The headbutt seems to be more common in association football (soccer) than in the major North Americans sports. It isn't a named infraction in any sport I'm familiar with — it would just fall under intentional foul or boarding or unsportsmanlike conduct and so on, like a punch or a kick or other physical strike. I would thus be unsurprised to see a higher prevalence in British as opposed to American usage, and the reverse true, say, for beanball or backcourt.

A COHA search turns up no instances of headbutt — but it does return head-butt and head butt from the 1990s onwards. What may have occurred is that head butt being more common in the UK, the closed compound was lexicalized earlier than in the US, where headbutt in journalistic sources only took an upswing after Zinedine Zidane headbutted Marco Materazzi in the 2006 FIFA World Cup final.

While this is just a theory, a crude Ngram suggests that head butt remains more common than headbutt in works printed in the U.S. — but also that head-butt is still more prevalent than headbutt in the British corpus as well, as of 2008:

Google NGram showing "head butt" preferred to "headbutt" in the U.S. corpus, the reverse in the British corpus

  • 1
    Another way to say this is that the UK and the US have slightly different spellings for the exact same concept.
    – Mitch
    Dec 27 '18 at 20:24
  • Also, while soccer isn't very popular in the U.S., "professional" wrestling and other forms of fighting or show-fighting are, and you hear headbutt used in those contexts all the time. (I'll stress that you hear the term used, so you can't tell if it's hyphenated or open or closed. Even if you see it written, how confident can you really be that they spelled it "correctly" anyway?)
    – John Y
    Dec 27 '18 at 22:57

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

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