Wimbledon: A Vocabulary Guide

Wimbledon, the oldest and arguably the most prestigious tennis tournament, and one of the greatest events on London’s social calendar, begins next week.

The modern game of tennis originated in Birmingham, England, but has its roots in France, meaning it has a very Francophone linguistic history. We’ve compiled a list of popular tennis terms and their origins ahead of the 127th edition of Wimbledon.

Tennis: The term ‘Tennis’ is said to derive from the French word ‘Tenez,’ the imperative form of the verb ‘Tenir,’ which means to take, receive. The player serving would announce ‘Tenez!’ to the receiver. However, this term does not derive from the modern, fast-paced game we know today and see at Wimbledon, but rather to what is known as ‘real tennis,’ a similar sport now almost never played with French origins dating back to the 12th century.

Racket: This word is said to come from either the Arabic ‘Rakhat‘ or the Old French ‘Rachette,’ both of which mean the palm of the hand. Interesting, in French, ‘real tennis’ was known as ‘Jeu de paume,’ ‘palm game,’ before rackets were introduced in the 16th century.

Deuce: When a game is tied at 40-each, the umpire will announce ‘Deuce’ instead of ‘Forty-all’. The word comes from the French expression ‘À deux le jeu,‘ meaning ‘The game is shared’.

Love: Arguably the most well-known word associated with the sport, ‘love’ in tennis is used instead of zero or nil. How this came to be still remains a bit of a mystery. One theory is that it comes from ‘L’oeuf,’ the French expression for ‘egg,’ since an egg’s shape resembles that of a zero.

The expression ‘L’oeuf’ may have been used when tennis was played in France and changed to ‘Love’ when the British took up the sport and mispronounced the word.

There is even a possibility that the word comes from an English expression. At the start of a match when the scores are at zero, players still have “A love for each other”. Love may also come from the expression “To play for love (of the game),” as in to play for nothing – something that won’t be happening this year at Wimbledon with the winners of men and women’s singles titles set win £1.6 million, the largest prize in tennis, ever.

Could the use of ‘Love’ in tennis be the result of a bad mistranslation? Possibly, but not all mistranslations end up being so widely accepted. Today Translations is a translation company based in the heart of London (though not quite in Wimbledon), specialising in a variety of language services from document translation and interpreting at events, to website localisation. We’re always game to set up your translation and match you with one of our professional linguists across the globe.

If you have any query regarding our translation services, or if you’re a business looking to implement an effective language strategy for a new target market, feel free to contact our accounts team and project managers at +44 (0) 207 397 2770 or email us at [email protected].