- Language: French
- Pronunciation: [fʊtɪks]
- Etymology: from the French foot (‘football’) and the pseudo-Gaulish suffix -ix
- Fun fact: to call someone a ‘footix’ in France today is to label them a part-time supporter/bandwagon jumper
Recently we had a good poke around the origins of the word ‘mascot’. Following on from that, we’re exploring one of the enduring images of our adolescence: Footix, cartoon cockerel and mascot of the France ’98 World Cup. Here he is, look.
Our story actually begins where Footix ends, with the suffix –ix. And for this we go back to ancient France, where one small village of indomitable Gauls still holds out against the Roman invaders…
Putting the -ix in Asterix
The Asterix the Gaul cartoons brought together lovely illustrations, magnificent silliness and the odd sneaky allusion to classical literature. All this made them hugely popular in France and, thanks to some nifty translation work, with an international audience.
And one feature of the series is that every character in Asterix’s village of hardy Gauls has a name ending in –ix.
This afforded author René Goscinny the chance to riff on an array of silly names in French. But Goscinny’s choice of suffix was also loosely grounded in Gaulish history: –ix appears in the names of many celebrated chieftains of Gaul, most famously perhaps Vercingetorix. However, the suffix used in these names is not –ix, but –rix, meaning ‘king’.
Regardless, -ix worked well in Asterix as a signifier of Gaulish names. Following the books’ success, it had the honour of becoming a Gallic stereotype, finding its way down the 20th century and all the way to Footix.
So combining the -ix with foot, we have a name that is both instantly football and instantly French, even for a non-francophone, non-footballing audience. Neat.
But why is Footix a rooster?
In itself, the choice to make Footix an anthropomorphic cockerel is not a surprising one.
The Gallic rooster has long been a symbol of France and, as clucking, squawking embodiment of the nation, is the obvious choice for World Cup mascot. The question is, why did the rooster come to represent France in the first place?
In a turn of events that was no doubt pleasing to the pun-loving Goscinny, it’s all down to a play on words.
The Gaul of it
Back in Latin, the words for rooster (gallus) and Gauls (Gallus) were homonyms.
Enemies of the Gaulish people seized on this coincidence and began the ancient and noble tradition of making fun of the French, playing on their cockerel-like pride, strut and stubborness.
As time passed and Gaul became France, the French, with admirable sass, took ownership of all this mockery. During the Renaissance the cockerel became the adopted emblem of the emerging nation, a dawn-crowing triumph of light over darkness. Despite objections along the way from the likes of Napoleon, the Gallic rooster has stuck around as symbol of all things French.
For Footix, then, there could really only be one kind of beast.
What is a footix today?
And following the World Cup, the word footix has endured, though not in the way originally intended.
France ’98 sparked a surge of in interest in the game, bringing with it a number of new fans who had only a passing interest in the game. The snooty hardcore looked down their noses at these johnny-come-latelies* and called them footix, which today is still widely used for a part-time supporter or fairweather fan.