Insights for Expats: American Football Idioms Explained

To expats, the word “football” usually denotes the game of soccer, followed by loyal (and rabid) fans all over the world. But in the U.S. we have our unique brand of American football, with millions devoted to both college and professional teams all across the land.  Pro football culminates in the Super Bowl, a major sports and cultural event.


American Football Idioms


The game is so popular in America that terms used in the sport have made their way into the everyday speech of business. We offer a few of these borrowed terms to help those unfamiliar with the American “gridiron” game translate their meaning.

  1. Quarterbacking: In an American football game, the quarterback directs the team offense, most visibly when passing the ball to another player. He is the leader on the field. So when your manager says “you need to quarterback this project” she means you are expected to take the leadership role.
  2. Monday morning quarterback: As weekends through fall and winter in America are filled with football games, Monday is the day after games are won or lost. So, when someone criticizes a decision after the issue has already been decided, with the benefit of hindsight, they are being Monday morning quarterbacks.
  3. Move the goalposts: Goalposts mark the zone a player has to reach to score points. It’s the location of the objective of teams want reach to oust their opponent. Moving the goalposts means changing the goal and perhaps making it more difficult to, say, kick a field goal through the goalposts.  So if you hear a sales person complaining that someone keeps “moving the goalposts”, it probably means their goals keep changing.
  4. Fumble: When a player fumbles it means he has lost possession of the ball. The other team may then gain an advantage by going on offense.  In business, it refers to any kind of mistake or mishandling of an issue or project or perhaps even a meeting.
  5. End run: A running play that tries to go around, rather than through, the defensive line is a common tactic in football. Its purpose is to evade the strength of opposition.  In business it refers to finding a creative, perhaps unconventional, way around a problem.  Sometimes it implies that a person has bent the rules in a way that may offend another colleague.
  6. Hail Mary: In a football game, a Hail Mary is a (usually very long) last second pass into the end zone to try to tie the score or win the game in dramatic fashion. They rarely succeed.  In business, someone who calls an action a Hail Mary is saying it has only a small chance of succeeding.

Football season is just around the corner and while most expatriates may never grow to appreciate this uniquely American game, we do hope that this brief list will help you get off the sidelines and into the action during your next meeting.