As a graduate student and former UGA tennis player, I wanted to investigate an alternative definition for the word love. Valentine’s Day, a red rose, chocolates and romance. These are all things that are associated with the word love. Love comes from the Latin words lubet, meaning ‘it is pleasing’, and lubido, meaning desire. Webster’s dictionary defines love “as a strong affection for another arising out of kinship, personal ties, admiration, or attraction based on sexual desire.” Seeing as how Valentine’s Day just passed, you would think I would be inspired to talk about love, but on the contrary I am a little bitter. To many people love is everything, but to me love is nothing.
That’s right I decided to research the meaning of the word love in tennis. Love in tennis means nothing, nada, zilch, zero, YOU ARE LOSING. Scoring in tennis for a single game goes love, 15, 30, 40, game. There is nothing worse than the feeling of the umpire yelling love-40 when you are about to serve. The use of the word in tennis is actually of much debate. There are three main arguments about how love came to signify zero in the game of tennis.
The first theory argues that tennis is a gentlemen’s sport and by using the word love, instead of zero or nothing, makes your opponent feel better.
The second theory claims that love came to be used from the phrase “to play for the love of the game” or in other words “to play for nothing”. It was thought tennis should be a cordial and fun game that did not deal with winnings, but only played for enjoyment.
Lastly, and my personal favorite, is the French egg theory. Many scholars claim this is the true origin of the use of the word love in tennis. Society at large thinks of tennis being played by English kings and queens and the historic event of Wimbledon, but tennis actually dates back further in French history. The value of nothing is symbolized by the number zero, which resembles the shape of an egg. French tennis players used the word for egg, which is “l’oeuf” in French, to announce “no score”. When tennis crossed over to the English, the word l’oeuf was changed to the English word love by British players because of the similar pronunciation and spelling.
As you can see, the word love can have several different meanings that are completely opposite of each other. Hopefully one day I will understand a different kind of love, but just remember the next time you use the word love, especially when talking to a tennis player, it is not always a good thing.