A Reader Asks, “Why is Zero Called Love in Tennis?”

Answer: Many Point to Game’s French Root for Answer
This spring we asked you, our readers, to submit sport-related questions you wanted answered. Out of the many responses, we chose one from Christopher Agnew of Erdenheim, Penn. He wanted to know why zero is called love in tennis. With his mom a devout tennis fan, this question has befuddled him for years.
If it’s any consolation, Christopher, tennis scoring has perplexed many, including some of the game’s leading players. When Billie Jean King first learned that the first two points are 15 and 30, she (like most of us), figured the next point would be 45. When told that it was actually 40, she is reported to have asked, “What is this sport?”
Another tennis great, Andre Agassi once said that the points’ names were “Invented to cause frustration to those who chose to play.” Still, you have to like a sport where the word “love” is bandied about so frequently.
Love = A Goose Egg
While there is no definitive source on the subject, it is believed that “love” may be derived from the French word l’oeuf, or the egg. Before you think this a silly way to note score, remember that in American English, we frequently use the term “goose egg” to denote zero. Why “l’ouef,” rather than “goose egg?” Because many believe the game originated in France, perhaps as early as the 12th century. When the game was adopted by the English, “l’ouef” was assimilated into “love” because the pronunciation for the two terms are close. “Love” has stuck ever since.
Clock Face Explains Scoring
To understand the rest of the points, you have to picture a clock face and the minute hand. Four points are needed to win a match and a clock is dived into quadrants: 15, 30, 45 and 60 and these might have been the points except for the fact that a game must be won by two points. Therefore, the first three points advance the hand to 15, 30 and 40. If both players are at 40 points, that’s called deuce, meaning two points are needed to win the match. The next two consecutive points advance the hand by 10 minutes each, first to 50, then to 60, which would still have the game finish at the 60 mark.
One more bit of trivia, Christopher: It is believed “tennis” evolved from “tenez,” or take heed. Think of the “fore” in golf, used to warn those ahead (and sometimes beside) us.
If you want to experience a little “love” on the court, be sure to speak with one of our knowledgeable tennis experts at your local Dunham’s Sports store. As with nearly every other sport, tennis equipment and apparel have advanced a great deal in the last few years. With the right equipment, you could learn to love tennis and the cardiovascular workout it provides.
-Tennis is My Racquet
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