Tennis, the elegant sport of rackets and balls, is not just known for its fierce matches and stunning athleticism but also for its unique scoring system.
Table of Contents
If you think about basketball, soccer, you can score one, two or three points, at most. However, tennis doesn’t work the same way. Fifteen, thirty, forty — why not forty-five? —, deuce, love, advantage. Definitely, tennis has a peculiar system of scoring.
Of all these terms, there is one among them that arouses more curiosity than the rest: “love”. Why love? Isn’t that a feeling? And you would ask, what does “love” mean in a tennis match? To the surprise of some, it has nothing to do with love. In a tennis match, when the referee tells the score and says “love”, it means that that player has zero points. Instead of zero, they say “love”.
There are different theories all around the world that try to explain the origin of this term. So, which is the actual origin? I’m sorry to spoil the party, but there is not a clear idea of how this term was born.
Nonetheless, all these theories talk about interesting possibilities of the origin of the term. After reading about all of them, you can decide which one you think is the true one and tell your tennis friends the origin of “love” next time you play a match together.
The History of Tennis Scoring
The origin of tennis scoring is not very clear, though there are some sports which could have influenced it.
The evolution of tennis from its early forms
It is commonly said that the medieval sport called “Jeu de Paume” is the predecessor of modern tennis. This sport was similar to tennis: they played in a court which was divided in two halves, and players had to pass the ball to their opponent’s half of the court. However, they hit the ball with their hands.
Over time, this sport evolved and the usage of the racket instead of the hands became popular.
“Jeu de paume” already had a similar system of scoring as tennis’: 15, 30, 40, game.
The influence of other sports on tennis scoring
Apart from “Jeu de paume”, there are other sports, like Real tennis (an early form of current tennis) that share the same way of scoring. Even cricket could have influenced tennis scoring, as a punctuation of zero is also a rare term that at first sight has nothing to do with zero: “duck”.
The Clock Face Theory
There is a theory which says that tennis’ scoring terms come from a clock.
The role of clock faces in early tennis scoring
It is believed that the usage of the clock was very popular in the early tennis history: two clocks were used to show the players scores. The clock face was divided in quarters, the scores were 15,30,40 and game (a full rotation of the clock. When players scored a point, the clock rod was moved one quarter. And you will be asking yourselves right now: why not forty-five? Well, people reckon that it is because forty was easier to say than forty-five. As simple as that.
How “love” may have originated from the “zero” position on a clock face
Okay, and what about “love”? It is said that the term “love” comes from the resemblance of the number zero, which is related to the initial position of the clock face, to a heart. Due to this connection, the term “love” may have started to be used.
The Egg Theory
Another popular theory tells us that an egg could be the answer to this mystery. Quite curious, as an egg has nothing to do with tennis, right?
The French word “l’oeuf” and its connection to tennis scoring
In French, “l’oeuf” means egg. It is said that when playing tennis in France, people said “l’oeuf” instead of zero, as an egg remembers to zero.
How “love” may have originated from the resemblance between “zero” and an egg
When the British heard French saying “l’oeuf”, they thought they were referring to “love”, and they started to say love instead of zero. So, just because some people found that an egg was quite similar to zero and some misunderstanding, the term “love” may have been born.
The Dutch Influence Theory
If you had to tell from where the people that helped to popularize the term “love” were, you would say British, French, or even Americans, as they are from big tennis nations since the start of tennis. But what about Dutch?
The role of the Dutch in early tennis history
Lots of Dutch migrated to England, the cradle of tennis, in the period when tennis became popular. During that era, lots of matches were played for money. That is why, when a player did not score a single point and continued playing, the dutch said: “omme lof spleen” or “iets voor lof doen”, which means “he/she just played for honor”.
How “love” may have originated from the Dutch word “lof,” meaning honor
Given that information, many people believe that the term “love” could have originated from the word that the Dutch repeated all day long when there was a score of zero: “lof”, whose pronunciation is quite similar to love’s.
The Connection to Love and Relationships
An engaging theory suggests that it could be related to the feeling of love.
The symbolism of love in tennis scoring
When you start a relationship, everything feels nice, perfect. You feel fresh, eager to start that new stage in your life. The same happens when you start a game in tennis, and you have not won any point yet. It is a new start, and you feel eager to play your best and take that game.
The potential connection between love in relationships and the term “love” in tennis
So, as shown above, an explanation to the term “love” being related to zero could be that the start of a game (where you have zero points), is similar to the start of a relationship (where there is tons of love).
Nevertheless, there are some people that say that the relation of love with tennis is another one. The point they have is that if a player fails to make any point, it doesn’t matter, as they are just playing for the love of the game. They do not want to win, they just want to enjoy the game. That is another reason why the term love could be related to zero.
Other Unique Tennis Scoring Terms
Love is not the only term in tennis that is characteristic. I am going to show you some more terms that may be interesting for you to know the history behind them.
“Deuce” and its origin
“Deuce” is used in tennis when both players reach 40 points. In this situation, you need to win two points in a row to win the game.
It is widely believed that the expression “deuce” comes from the French term “á deux”, which means “to two”. The explanation is easy: when you get to 40-40, you need to do two points in a row to win the game, and when this happened, it was said: “á deux”. The expression evolved to the term we use nowadays, “deuce”.
“Advantage” and its meaning in tennis scoring
This term is way easier to explain, as the word itself tells you the meaning of it. As you can imagine, “advantage” is said in a tennis match when you win the next point just after a deuce.
This means that you have an advantage over the other player, as you just must win one more point in order to get that game.
“Game, set, match” and its significance
“Game, set and match, Federer”. An expression you may have heard several times. When a match is finished, you will always hear this expression (with the name of the winner at the end instead of Federer. That would be weird).
The significance is not very complicated, it tells you that a player won the last game that was played, the set, and consequently, the match. All at the same time. Could they just say “Match, Federer”? Yes, but it does not sound as cool.
So, here you have the most popular theories about the origin of the term love in tennis, apart from the meaning of other interesting terms of tennis. As mentioned before, there is not enough evidence to accept one theory as the true one. So, now it is your turn to decide, given the above, which theory is the most believable. Or, if none of them convince you, you can try to investigate the topic and make your own conclusions. Who knows if the truth is yet waiting to be discovered?