In tennis, what is the term given for zero points?

And the answer: love.​​    
Photo credit: Brendan Dennis. 

The term "love" has been used since the 1800s. There are two widely accepted theories for this—it could refer to the fact that losing players were playing for the "love" of the game, even if their score is zero. Love could also come from the French word for egg, l’oeuf, which is similar to the English slang for zero being a "goose egg."

It’s only fitting that a game as old as tennis should have the strangest terms. Other than “love,” many tennis terms date back to the game’s evolution from France’s jeu de palme—the forerunner to tennis, which was popular in the 18th century. In fact, the name “tennis” itself is theorized to come from the french verb tenir, or “to hold.” In 13th century France, players would have shouted the word before hitting the ball to their opponent, indicating “I am ready to serve!” Today, however, that practice is not accepted (and you might even get a warning from the ref!).

Another interesting tennis term is “let.” This term arose out of necessity, as anything can happen during a game of tennis. From a pigeon landing on the net, to a bit of paper landing on the court, this term is used to indicate the need to replay a point due to outside interruption. A “let” can also be played when the opponent is not ready to receive the serve.

One of the most common, yet fascinating terms is “ace.” Now used as a verb to generally indicate strong success (ex: “I aced that test!”), the meaning of ace as we know it dates back to the 18th century, where an Ace in cards meant excellence. Following this association, an ace in tennis came to be defined as an unreturnable serve.

Learn more tennis terminology here.


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