To celebrate we’re going to take a look at the key vocabulary for this very British event.
Let’s start from the top. The word tennis comes from the Old French tentez, the imperative form of tenir, meaning to hold, to take or to receive. Although modern tennis was born in England, its roots lie in France and this is reflected in the French influence on the language used to describe it.
The origins of the word racket are unclear but many believe it comes from the Arabic rahat al-yad, which means palm of the hand. This may be linked to a predecessor of tennis where the palm of the hand was used in place of a racket (ouch), in French this was known jeu de palme (game of the palm).
In tennis, the word love is used to mean zero. The reasons for this are unknown although there is a theory that it comes from the idea of “playing for love”, that is to say playing tennis for no other reason than for the love of it. Another thought is that it comes from the French word oeuf (egg) as a 0 looks like an egg. This sounds a bit strange but tennis does have a couple of other food related terms, too. Bagel is used colloquially to mean losing a set 6-0 (apparently a zero is the shape of a bagel….) while a breadstick is a loss of 6-1 (OK, I can get on board with a one looking like a breadstick).
Deuce is used to call out a score of 40-40 and stems from the French à deux le jeu, literally meaning “to both the game” meaning that both players have equal scores. Despite these roots, modern French uses the word égalité instead.
With the Australian and French Open under his belt Novak Djokovic had his eyes on a Grand Slam but it wasn’t to be. I wonder if he knows that the term originates from a very different sport entirely. Grand Slam comes from the world of card-playing and can be traced back to the 19th century. In the game Bridge, a Grand Slam is when a player wins all thirteen tricks of a deal.
Now that we’re all a bit more knowledgeable about the game, grab your strawberries and cream and we’ll see you on Henman Hill … or is it Murray Mound?