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Underdogs, curses and ‘Neymaresque’ histrionics: Cambridge University Press reveals what’s been getting us talking this World Cup


There has been no shortage of surprises during this year’s competition, and this shines through in the language data. Expressions such as premature exit reflect that several of the predicted favourites haven’t fared as well as expected, with the odd unforgivable blunder making an appearance, too.

Building on similar research conducted during the 2014 World Cup, the Press has mined over 12 million words of media coverage, to analyse the language used when discussing the various teams over the course of this year’s tournament.

Comparison with the language collected in 2014 shows that, whilst traditionally successful teams such as Brazil have gone from stylish to nervous and Argentina from having flair to struggling, World Cup 2018 underdogs such as England have gone from being inexperienced to confident.

The data reflects that several teams have defied expectations – the word underdogs features frequently in media reports, along with related language like plucky, determined, and punch above their weight also making an appearance.

As fans root for their home teams, the verb overcome is commonly found alongside words such as obstacles, hurdles and adversity. Even England’s long-standing penalty curse has been overcome, whereas previous champions Germany fell victim to the curse of the holders.

The introduction of Video Assisted Referee (VAR) technology has seemingly been met with mixed feelings, as it is commonly associated with words such as controversy, overturn and incident.

Despite the introduction of VAR, however, bad behaviour still abounds; the word histrionics is prominent in the data – often found alongside adjectives such as ridiculous, headline-grabbing, and amateurish. A new term has even been coined this year: neymaresque.

As well as analysing the language used by journalists and media commentators, The Press has also been asking fans to submit the words they would use to describe their national teams.

Laura Grimes, senior ELT research manager at Cambridge University Press, said: “It’s been great to see the correlation between the language used by the media and the descriptive words submitted by football fans. We’ve combined these two datasets to select the three words most strongly associated with each team.

“The huge amount of language data we’ve collected and analysed gives us fascinating insight into the mood surrounding the World Cup. It’s been a dramatic and surprising tournament and this is certainly reflected by the language used in the media, as well as by football fans.”

The Press is still inviting submissions for the public’s top three words to describe each national team. To contribute, simply visit www.cambridge.org/word-cup, click on any country and enter the three words you feel best describes this team.

Once submitted, you’ll be taken to a page that is updated in real time and shows the most popular words that have been submitted in a word cloud.

Cambridge University Press has revealed the results of its global study into the language used around the 2018 FIFA World Cup in Russia.

The huge amount of language data we’ve collected and analysed gives us fascinating insight into the mood surrounding the World Cup.
Laura Grimes
Argentina fans at the 2018 FIFA World Cup.

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