Word Nerd: 5 weird words heard at Wimbledon

10 Jul

It’s Wimbledon season, and tennis fans can’t stop talking about it, while their cricket- and football-loving friends keep trying to change the subject. Have you ever wondered about how strange the vocabulary of tennis is? Here are a few terms – feel free to add more in the comments!

1. Racket

Selling match tickets illegally is one example of a racket. The noise made by shrieking sports fans is another. And a third example is, of course, the hitting device without which Roger Federer, Andy Murray, Angelique Kerber and the rest of them would score a bagel (see below). The origin of ‘racket’ is unclear. It may be imitative of clattering sounds. An alternative spelling is ‘racquet’, and probably originally referred to a tennis-like game played with the open hand.

2. Court

This where racketeers of all types end up (or ought to). But tennis players are nothing like lawyers, so why are both their stomping grounds called ‘courts’? Well, in medieval French, cort referred to a royal court or residence. The word came from the Latin cors, meaning ‘enclosed yard’. The earlier form of cors was cohors (com- means together, and hortus refers to a garden or plot of ground – and yes, the English word ‘cohort’ comes from the same root). By extension, cors also referred to those who assembled in the yard. The word first entered sports – via tennis – in the early 16th century.

3. Deuce

This word has its roots in late 15th-century gaming culture, as it referred to the two in dice and cards. It comes from Middle French deus (deux in Modern French), which is derived from the Latin duos, meaning ‘two’. By the early 18th century, it was being used as a mild curse referring to the devil, perhaps because two was the lowest score. In tennis, ‘deuce’ means a score of 40 all, with the game going to the first player to score two consecutive points.

4. Bagel

Ordinary mortals might make a meal of one, but to a tennis player it means much more than carbs. A bagel in tennis refers to a score of zero. In a 6-0 game, the loser is said to have handed the winner a ‘bagel’ (since the bread resembles a zero). A ‘breadstick’ refers to a 6-1 game. There even existed an annual Golden Bagel Award (2004-13), which went to the top-eight player who captured the most bagels. See the all-time bagel greats here.

5. Love

To normal human beings, this word is full of feels. It comes from the Old English lufu, which is of Germanic origin. Dig deeper and you will find it has an Indo-European root which is shared by Sanskrit (the Sanskrit verb lubhyati means ‘desires’). In Latin, libet means ‘it is pleasing’, and libido means ‘desire’. But to tennis players, as the old joke goes, love means nothing.

If you have any tennis terms to add to our list, leave a comment below!

Read more Word Nerd posts here.


By Uma Asher


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