Don’t Touch Down for a Touchdown

See if your football fanatic friends can explain the meaning and history behind some common football words!

Let’s start with a strangely confusing term in the game: touchdown. For most of the game the last thing a player wants is for the pigskin to make contact with the ground. Why would it be called a touchdown, if the football doesn’t need to touch down in order to score? The contradictory nature of the term touchdown is a holdover from rugby, where the ball must indeed touch to score points.

What about the weird words that a quarterback says before the ball enters play, “hut, hut, hike?” There isn’t a dictionary definition or explanation for why these words in particular are used, but this is what we know. “Hut” has long been used in military marching cadences as a surrogate for “one.” Hike is the signal to execute the snap, “to put (the ball) into play by tossing it back to the quarterback or other member of the offensive backfield, esp. from between the legs when bent over double and facing the line of scrimmage; center.” The use of hike probably relates to its meaning “to hike something up,” like a pair of pants. The motion of the snap is arguably similar.

The quarterback used to be known as the blocking back. The “back” part of the word refers to the player’s position behind the offensive line. The designation of “quarter,” “half,” or “full” indicates the distance from the formation on the 50-yard line. The quarterback is behind the tacklers; the half backs further out, and the full back is the player behind the rest. The “back” terms aren’t as relevant as they once were; newer formations position players differently and assign different roles to team members.

Do you have any other football term questions? Throw them out there, in our comments section.


  1. S Thompson -  September 19, 2015 - 1:53 pm

    What does it mean when the commentator says about a reciever, ” A little sugar there.” ?

  2. Stradivarius -  February 5, 2012 - 9:58 pm

    There is so much fail in this comments section. *Sigh* So much fail…

  3. o -  February 5, 2012 - 1:21 pm

    I have a football question. Why do we even still watch football?

  4. PLZ -  January 27, 2011 - 11:35 am

    wats with the QB liftin his leg bfore recivin the hike????

    • faf adasfasfas -  September 8, 2014 - 9:57 am

      Sometimes it’s so loud the center can’t hear the quarterback, especially in a shotgun formation, so it lets the center visually see when to hike, or if it’s a silent count. It can also be a signal to put someone in motion before the play. Essentially, it depends on the situation, but is used as a visual cue for the snap, a player to go in motion, an audible, etc. It lets the center see it, and the receivers and backs to see it, but is harder for the other team to spot, and no sound is required.

    • Alex ithau -  April 5, 2015 - 7:58 pm

      When you’re right ends are backed away from the line normally the quarter back gives them the option to run. So before the ball is hiked the quarterback lift up his lleft or right leg to signal the left or right tight end to ru. Toward him and give him the option to run the ball

    • Pat -  December 6, 2015 - 12:36 pm

      the center hikes the ball(he’s looking upside down at the ground with his head between his legs and the ball on the ground in front of him to where the QB stands) on the second “lift” of his foot (usually the second but different plays have different signs). It is a nonverbal sign (the QB doesn’t want to “audible” to the opposing team when the hike will happen.) this is my understanding.

  5. cornealus -  January 25, 2011 - 2:49 pm

    just ended up on this page as the result of upgrade notice from “dictionary.com…saw top of 1st blog so was lured into the trap…I can’t believe you guys ( and / or girls) have absolutely nothing else to do in your life but post silly drivel regarding (or completely off the topic) some of the honest attempts to clarify some football terms….
    I haven’t yet figured out what…”I thought my true love was playing football bit found he was trying out for a spot on the cheerleader squad” has to do with the topic…guess we can add the term “Laid” (as in getting” to “laid back” in reference to quarter, half, full etc. back…
    Guess I’m trapped as now I’ll have to return to this site to see the brilliant responses I’ll get….take care and stay well Corney

  6. fag -  January 25, 2011 - 2:13 pm

    GGGGGGGGGGGGGOOOOOOOOOOOO STEELERS!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!SUCK IT

    • Vivi -  February 11, 2016 - 1:25 pm

      I do not like the Steelers. No offense to them!

  7. Kristi -  January 25, 2011 - 1:29 pm

    I love love love football. Can’t wait until the first Sunday in Feb. My family always has a party. I don’t care who you call what 1/4, 1/2 or fullbacks. My favorite is watching those cute tight ends. Lol. You people enjoy life more and try to see the fun and joy it can bring you with a positive outlook.

  8. Kate -  October 26, 2010 - 9:46 am

    Why is everybody saying mean things? If you don’t like the article, or the topic, just leave it alone! Don’t ruin everybody elses fun! Gosh… :P ps, go saints!!

  9. hksche2000 -  October 9, 2010 - 12:48 pm

    Hut, hut, hut in Alaska is used to “fire up” and get sled dogs going. This sound it imitates the crack of a whip. So, maybe the QB is trying to fire up his team to hike the pig skin?
    But why is football called football when there is so little ball action by foot? And why isn’t soccer called football in America when most of the game action is by foot, indeed, and any touch of the ball (x goaly) by hand (up to the elbow)is a foul? The rest of the world sure calls it what it is “Football” as opposed to “American Football’, which isn’t.

  10. cosmosis -  October 3, 2010 - 12:41 pm

    I believe the term “Paydirt” originated in the gold mining camps in Ca. in 1850 or so, The object being to find a rich deposit of dust/flake, then go get drunk/laid/opium anything that paydirt could get ya!….sorta like today!

  11. Nikki -  September 24, 2010 - 10:22 am

    I’m sorry but i hate football my now ex of three weeks plays football and for two weeks he told me he was having to pratice late and it turned out he was cheating on me with one of the cheerleaders!!!!!!!!!!!! Thats okay hey bradley my grandpa is your football coach so the jokes on you loser!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    - – And y exactly do u have to hate football. Because u don’t have a good enough reason 2 hate football. So just get over it. – -NOW!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  12. AMY-LOU -  September 10, 2010 - 9:38 am

    I’m sorry but i hate football my now ex of three weeks plays football and for two weeks he told me he was having to pratice late and it turned out he was cheating on me with one of the cheerleaders!!!!!!!!!!!! Thats okay hey bradley my grandpa is your football coach so the jokes on you loser!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  13. he wants to be accepted -  September 9, 2010 - 4:54 am

    leave it or take it.

  14. LABOR DAY | BLOGCHI@mayopia.com -  September 8, 2010 - 9:01 am

    [...] who should pay the dues. — “The future ain’t what it used to be “ — Never take a HIKE in white shoes.–>>Rupert [...]

  15. HIKE | BLOGCHI@mayopia.com -  September 8, 2010 - 8:32 am

    [...] “TAKE A HIKE!” — said the scalawag“, to the teabagger without a team. — “We TAILGATE for the right to VOTE” — A teabagger in a three way tied — but that must be a dream. — HUT be Drawn, Quartered and disemboweled — HUT, Look how far we’ve come. — Hike! We sing. — We believe in everything. — It’s simply sad that the whole of it’s parts is lesser than the sum. –>>Rupert L.T.Rhyme [...]

  16. To J.D. from K.I. -  September 8, 2010 - 8:07 am

    Football quite often cause players brain damages or in a very rare case make autointoxication die down.

  17. Guest -  September 7, 2010 - 12:15 pm

    Correcting the word “use” on my previous comment to “uses” before the typo police come and arrest me.

  18. Guest -  September 7, 2010 - 12:03 pm

    “The “back” terms aren’t as relevant as they once were; newer formations position players differently and assign different roles to team members.”

    They were just discussing the origins of the positions.

    Halfback and fullback positions are still used. Any depth chart for any NFL team still use the titles of HB and FB.

  19. nicholas fein -  September 6, 2010 - 11:06 am

    My god what is everyone talking about. It reminds me of what a coach once said, I think it was Knute Rockne, no maybe it was Ara Parsegian, oh well they both coached at Notre Dame, which coincidentally won this weekend. Anyways, people get so focused on the negative that they forget what is really important, like forgetting your car keys or losing your wallet. Then you have to go to the DMV, which has really long lines, the way the post office does, even though they advertise, why does the post office advertise?

  20. boo! -  September 6, 2010 - 4:37 am

    A great article but it sounds Greek to me…

  21. Ted Seay -  September 6, 2010 - 12:53 am

    >The quarterback used to be known as the blocking back.

    Yes, in the days of the single wing, invented by Coach Glenn Scobey “Pop” warner c. 1906.

    >The “back” part of the word refers to the player’s position behind the offensive line.

    So far, so good.

    >The designation of “quarter,” “half,” or “full” indicates the distance from the formation on the 50-yard line.

    Completely wrong — they indicate the distance behind the offensive line of the various backs in the original T formation which predated the single wing by decades.

    >The quarterback is behind the tacklers; the half backs further out, and the full back is the player behind the rest.

    The quarterback lined up a few yards behind the center, who rolled the ball back with his foot in pre-1900 football; the halfbacks lined up behind the offensive guards and several yards behind the quarterback, and the fullback lined up directly behind the quarterback and a yard or two deeper than the halfbacks. Remember, these are the ORIGINAL meanings of the words.

  22. Skinny post -  September 5, 2010 - 8:01 pm

    Definition of football: organized violence interrupted by committee meetings.

  23. Sauce on the pig -  September 5, 2010 - 7:51 pm

    Quarterbacks function as district managers in land grab acquisition schemes.

  24. clark -  September 5, 2010 - 6:31 pm

    Fun reading all the comments, I for one enjoyed Jasik’s rambling tome. But back to the article, What the heck does distance from the 50 yeard line have to do with anything? I think it should be distance from scrimmage. Also, the half back can be in front of the full back and vice versa. LIGHTEN UP!

  25. OneDoDal -  September 5, 2010 - 4:29 pm

    @Jeff. It’s called “paydirt” because the offensive player(s) who can get the pigskin across this part of the feild consistently are the one(s) who get paid the most money. Ergo the term paydirt.

  26. Dean Terry -  September 5, 2010 - 4:29 pm

    I almost forgot something. The way I learned it when I was a kid, is that the “Hut, hut..” is a sound used because it is similar to first sound of “Hike” and was supposed to try to draw the defensive linemen offside.

    By the way, sportygirl, to whom is your hateful post directed?

  27. Dean Terry -  September 5, 2010 - 4:23 pm

    Neal W., the correct usage is the first one, e.g. “The quarterback used to be known as the blocking back.” If you’ll refer to the article, that’s the form that is used.

    John Frederickson, what are you talking about? You probably should ask your question on the page that contains the question to which you are referring.

    viktor, I thought that once contact is made in kendo, the round is over. I also thought that contact is made with a shinai, and not almost every part of a person’s body.

    Jasik7, with all of the big words you can use, one would have assumed that you would know correct grammar, also. So much for assumptions.

    Shana, I would have to say you’re the loser here.

    Bill, Drew, Mike, and disappointed, right on! LOL

  28. Mr. Raymond Kenneth Petry -  September 5, 2010 - 4:03 pm

    (But more obviously the Quarter was in a sense not the very-Center but a little ways off halfway to Half… And a Back– therefor a Quarterback.)

  29. Mr. Raymond Kenneth Petry -  September 5, 2010 - 3:59 pm

    (Well, It works.)

  30. Mr. Raymond Kenneth Petry -  September 5, 2010 - 3:58 pm


    This is one of those ‘wildward’ meanings with a ‘Ta-Da’ finish…


    QUARTER, -is,- The middle-part after you’ve drawn-and-quartered…!

    TA DA——————!

    Okay, The Backs are back, and Tackles are Forwards;

    The Fulls are the Ends, and the Half’s (sic) are the Middles;

    And the Quarter is what’s left after they’ve been quartered….



  31. misdirected -  September 5, 2010 - 3:44 pm

    To Jasik7

    The result of games , who are winners and art of athletes is more immediate than fields of learning, which might take more or less one century to be pervasive. In that case winners can be acknowledged in the furtre after they are gone.

  32. Ronin -  September 5, 2010 - 3:06 pm

    @Viktor No, Kendo does not require as much physical contact as football. Perhaps you’re thinking of Judo?

  33. Jonno -  September 5, 2010 - 2:59 pm

    I am sure your reference to half back etc is wrong – this is another hangover from rugby, where there is a halfback and a fullback. Wings are known “three-quarters” (half way between the half and fullback) and the midfield backs are known as “five-eigths” (1st five-eight, 2nd five-eight because … five-eights is halfway between half and three-quarters.

  34. sportygirl -  September 5, 2010 - 2:44 pm

    that was good!.. it’s too bad that that article probably took you a couple months to figure out and write… expecially since im a girl, younger than 20, i love football, and i already knew all that. hmm… try something else bud. this article didn’t help ya too much!

  35. jayman419 -  September 5, 2010 - 2:25 pm

    @Jeff: I know paydirt wasn’t a football term originally. It probably had to do with mining or oil speculation, and was used to describe scoring a touchdown by some beat writer for a paper in a mining or oil town?

    @Michael: If you meant the defensive play, teams on offense were able to down the ball themselves in their own endzone to move the line of scrimmage to their 25 yard line. If a player on defense touched the ball carrier during the attempt, they saved their teams some yards. It probably evolved from that, and stuck after the rules changed.

    @Bluesky: It was only ever true in the past. The early rules of football did not encourage passing much, mainly because there was nothing to prevent the defense from lighting a guy up before he attempted to make the catch or was even in a position to attempt it, and there were no special protections about hitting the quarterback like there are today. (No contact with wide receivers past 5 yards, many many rules about how and when you can hit the QB, ect). Teams rarely even tried to pass on 3rd down, because a pass attempt was really just an invitation to blow someone up.

    Instead every team set up in a diamond-like formation behind the offensive line. The quarterback’s job on just about every play was to take the snap from the center then hand it off to one of two halfbacks who stood on either side of him and a little bit further away from the line depending on if it was a run to the right or a run to the left. As soon as the quarterback made the handoff, he went to block for the runner.

    Nowadays, QBs usually just try to get out of the way because they are hired only for their accuracy. But back then all 11 players were on the field for both offense and defense, there were no separate squads, so a quarterback wasn’t allowed to be less physical than the other ten guys. (Hence the old-phrase 60-minute men.)

    @Jason: The term “running back” has pretty much always been used for anyone who lined up in the backfield then ran with the ball. The term “tail back” didn’t become popular until the invention of multiple formations, where a single player could run either right or left from behind the T.

  36. ML -  September 5, 2010 - 1:21 pm

    Thanks for the vague, “sorta” type of definitions. I read it thinking you had unique definitions and explanations, but it’s nothing, really. Just some speculation. I thought you should do better than that.

  37. disappointed -  September 5, 2010 - 12:34 pm

    @Jasik7: I really think you could have come up with some larger multisyllabic words for your post. Maybe you should try harder next time.

  38. viktor -  September 5, 2010 - 11:33 am

    @misdirected: Kendo requires at least as much physical contact as football does…

  39. word of the day -  September 5, 2010 - 10:41 am

    @ dictionary.com
    There is no forum to post comments for word of the day, so i am putting up the comment here. I do not like to visit twitter and facebook which are sheer nonsense sites. So create a forum for word of the the day under the word itself.

    I was reading the Word of the Day archives and found that certain words are being repeated Eg; The word of the day on 3rd May 1999 and 11th June 2006 is the same:emolument. Please stick to new words only.

    There are no flashcards or other techniques available on the website that engage ardent logophiles. I have given this as a suggestion in your questionaire. You havent done anything about it.

  40. Tha Pyngwyn -  September 5, 2010 - 10:15 am

    I would assume that because the safeties line up deep behind the cornerbacks (in some formations) they are a sort of “safety net” for long passes or running backs who get past the linebackers.

  41. Michael -  September 5, 2010 - 8:06 am

    What about “safety?”

  42. BlueSky -  September 5, 2010 - 8:06 am

    This doesn’t seem very authoritative at all. If the writer is explaining where the backs lined up back in the day, why did s/he use present tense verbs when describing their positions? Why would the quarterback, who handles the ball on every play, ever be a blocking back? It may have been true in the past, but how about some substantiation or more of an explanation?

  43. Jeff -  September 5, 2010 - 6:51 am

    How about the word Paydirt?? Where does that come from!

  44. Bill -  September 5, 2010 - 6:41 am

    Not only that, as always on any posting, people have to get snotty. The article could have had more content, ya, but it was mildly interesting.

    Thanks Shana. Football is mainly losers? Like baseball, hockey, basketball and pretty much anything in life, there are good people and bad people in sports. They are not 51% losers, I should hope. But people who walk around tossing out sentence like “they are mostly losers” are, in my book, haters. Look for the good in stuff, Shana, not the bad. For example, I think it’s great that you get out and read posts on the Internet (especially from dictionary .com) and post things. Good for you, Shana! Good for you!

  45. Jasik7 -  September 5, 2010 - 6:08 am

    misdirected: Coming from a competitive athlete as an individual or t. player in a plethora of sports loves to all out physical training obsessions your insight is a given and in fact seasonally observed and then compared to history. Along with the unique bio-physical artistic metaphors and human dynamism, there are also others: science, mathematics, physics, theory and a multitude of other areas of interdependency to the ONLY goal in competitive sports……to win. Kudo’s to your lucidity to all the energy that is both spent and created in human competition.
    PS……”2nd place is simply the 1st loser..” ; )

    Shana: Your comment, not you personally was not well thought through before posting. Simply reflects your quasi-narcissistic ignorance to the game and both the above average intelligence, personal conviction to discipline, ability to situationally adapt both mentally and physically, accountability, tactics, strategy, spatial reasoning, critical thinking, following the rule of law and pain; both m & p…..i could go on and on. My point is if you were to take characteristics of the actual great mean and women in history they all share these qualities. I would be questioning why your answering a thread to something you clearly do not relate to…..sports/athletics/organized team functions that today’s children that spend beyond abusive and harmful hours and hours playing games or anything techie….the sad irony is the parents that ALLOW this more than likely are lacking in a few if not all of the descriptive variables above……..there is no such thing as FAIR…..not just cause its a parental cliche”….fair is not a reality, its a mindset that’s manifested into divisive nature due to a humanity maxim created out of thin air…..fair is a shade of gray or perception that is foundational on excuses, blame(s)and the absolute refusal of personal responsibility.

  46. Neal W. -  September 5, 2010 - 5:27 am

    Which is correct?

    The quarterback used to be known as the blocking back.
    The quarterback use to be known as the blocking back.

  47. mkelie -  September 5, 2010 - 5:12 am

    Jason needs to investigate before he spouts off! Wikipedia is a good jumping off point.

  48. tony lambiasi -  September 5, 2010 - 5:09 am

    why is it called “foot”ball?

  49. t3 -  September 5, 2010 - 2:01 am

    Don’t get defensive. Nobody criticized your favorite sport. Discussing the history of the terms doesn’t mean the OP misunderstood the subject of modern play.

  50. John Frederickson -  September 4, 2010 - 11:18 pm

    The quarterback does not hike the ball. Who came up with this question?

    The center hikes the ball to the quarterback at the snap!

    Was this for real?

  51. Drew -  September 4, 2010 - 10:02 pm

    It’s funny how these people don’t understand that you are explaining where the names for the “back” positions came from, not where they line up today. You can led a horse to water…

  52. shana -  September 4, 2010 - 9:10 pm

    And in reference to “misdirected”… Football is mainly comprised of losers.

  53. Mike -  September 4, 2010 - 9:03 pm

    “The “back” terms aren’t as relevant as they once were; newer formations position players differently and assign different roles to team members.”
    Obviously Walter and jason didn’t read that line. Just sayin’.

  54. jason -  September 4, 2010 - 8:32 pm

    “The quarterback is right behind the tacklers; the half backs further out, and the full back is the player behind the rest.”

    This is startlingly wrong. There is not one formation in which the fullback lines up behind/further back than the halfback. The fullback is always in front of or directly next to the halfback. (hint: The term “halfback” is obsolete. The position is more commonly known as the “tailback” or just the “running back”.

  55. Walter M. Clark -  September 4, 2010 - 7:07 pm

    Your definition of the half back and full back may have been valid in the days of “three yards in a cloud of dust” but any more the full back is in front of the half back and generally goes into the line ahead of the ball carrying half back to try and make an opening for him.

  56. misdirected -  September 4, 2010 - 6:03 pm

    It might be irrelavant here but what I have always thought about the sports is the art of it. Sports usually involes with winners and losers.
    Winners get all the glory and their self confidence. But the thing is how they do that. I think more refined the glory is, less the physical contact involved in the sports. Like fencing, horse racing, Kendo, and some more other sports require very little physical contact as opposed to football, wrestling. The latter seems to me in that sense coarse sports that reminds me of some love actions in the Hollywood movies–very insipid.
    Or maybe that preconception blocks my mind to see through the art of the porn.


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