It’s hard to miss that pinnacle of American football, the Super Bowl. You’ve seen the phrase so many times that the words likely have become invisible. Rub your eyes and take a fresh look. What exactly does the “bowl” refer to?
Bowl is the word used to describe the series of post-season games played by college leagues. The term doesn’t have anything to do with breakfast cereal or competitive bowling, but references the scooped-out shape of most football stadiums.
The first bowl-shaped stadium was the Yale Bowl, built in 1914. The design allowed seating on all sides of the stadium, meaning more observers could fit inside. The design was repeated for the building of the Rose Bowl Stadium, home of the Tournament of Roses Bowl, called the Rose Bowl after 1923.
The word bowl is an old one, with recognizable variations going back to Proto-Indo-European with bhel meaning “rounded or swollen.” Proto-Germanic bul was a rounded vessel, leading to the Old English bolla, a pot, bowl or cup.
The word stadium comes from the Greek stade, which referred to a length about an eighth of a mile long. During the ancient Olympic games, a stade-long race was held, and eventually the name was used to refer to the lengt, the footrace, as well as the place where the footrace was held.
The suffix –ium modifies the noun stade by indicating that something is bigger than the usual. Similar examples include emporium and auditorium. With seating capacities at football stadiums reaching upwards 100,000 people, the word accurately captures the larger than life quality of a stadium game.
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