Why is 0 called Love by the English and Zero by the French?
Why is 40-40 referred to as deuce?
Ossian Shine, the author of “The Language of Tennis” mentions that the modern day tennis had roots in a game called “Real Tennis” in France in which the server shouted “Tenez” (‘here you go’ in French) before every serve. Seems logical. However, the scoring system in tennis is odd and adds a lot of flavor to the game. How it came about is a matter of debate. Andre Agassi was once asked about the tennis scoring system and he said “It was invented to cause frustration to those who chose to play.” There are theories around it, and most of them point to origins in France and the English mispronunciation of the French language. Read on for answers.
Theory 1: The French used 2 clocks to keep game scores of each player. Since 4 points were needed to win a game, when a player won a point, the hands of the clock were advanced by a quarter. So it went from 0 to 15, 15 to 30. Logically it should have been 0-15-30-45-60(game). However, since a game needs to be won by difference of two points, the French choose stops at 40-50-game. If any player failed to win 2 points in a row, the clock would move back to 40.
Theory 2: The clock was the reason for choosing 0-15-30 as the first 3 points. However, in French 0-15-30-45 would be zero – quinze – trente – quarante cinq. Since ‘quarante cinq’ is 3 syllables long (and difficult for the English to pronounce!), 40 (quarante) was chosen instead.
Theory 3: The scoring nomenclature could have come from the French game jeu de paume (a game which used the hand instead of a racket). In Jeu de paume the traditional court was 90 ft in total with 45 ft on each side. When the server scored, he moved forward 15 ft. If he scored again, he would move another 15 ft (30 in all). If he scored a third time, he could only move 10 ft closer (40 in all).
“Anybody who can dial a telephone can master tennis scoring in 15 mins”
– Bradley Whitford
Why is 0 called ‘Love’ by the English and ‘Zero’ by the French?
This question has intrigued historians a lot. The French started out with L’oeuf (egg) instead of zero to indicate ‘nothing’. It is argued that the English mispronunciation corrupted the word and they said Love instead. The agitated French went back to calling it zero’ as a mark of protest.
“Dating a tennis player is risky, love means nothing to us.”
At 40-40, the players had to win 2 straight points to clinch the game. This was reminded by the French by announcing deux (two in French). The English couldn’t get this right either and said ‘deuce’ instead of ‘deux’. The French stopped using deux and called it egalite’ (which means equality)!
5 instead of 15 is popular in some clubs in the states during informal matches due to five’s brevity in comparison with fifteen. To add to the confusion, thirty is replaced by three and forty by four (ending up with 0-5-3-4-game). Some also call the score 30-30 as deuce followed by ‘ad in’ or ‘ad out’ as the score 30-30 is effectively same as deuce.
This crazy history has added a lot of character to the game and is probably why it is the most popular racket sport today.
Do you know of any more theories? Leave a comment below…
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