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Why do they say "love fifteen," in tennis?

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2  
@Danny they say both, but they're not equivalent. –  Dusty Apr 12 '11 at 17:51
    
You have had explanations of love. The fifteen may come from a clock and means you have a quarter of the points needed to win the game. Or it may come from positions in the French jeu de paume. –  Henry Apr 12 '11 at 23:57
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To a tennis player, love means nothing — as many adoring fans have found, to their sorrow. –  MT_Head Jul 6 '12 at 16:16

7 Answers 7

up vote 10 down vote accepted

"Love" is one of the ways you can read the number "0". So "fifteen love" means "The score is 15-0".

There are many theories about its origin. One is (taken from Wikipedia - but you'll find this anywhere):

The origin of the use of "love" for zero is also disputed. It is possible that it derives from the French expression for "the egg" (l'œuf) because an egg looks like the number zero.

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The l'oeuf explanation is the one I've always heard. It is interesting to note that the French simply use zéro when keeping score, and keep les oeufs in the kitchen. –  HaL Apr 12 '11 at 17:56
    
@HaL: Ahah :D well there was another one which said it was taken from Dutch. –  Alenanno Apr 12 '11 at 18:01
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Always heard this explained with "l'oeuf" like everybody else. Tennis goes back a long way in France, originating as something akin to handball in the 12th-13th centuries, and acquiring (roughly) its current form circa 1625 in England. It seems intuitively obvious that the game's terminology would borrow from French and "l'oeuf" maps neatly over our sports term "goose egg" for "zero." (goo.gl/ZBVZg) –  The Raven Apr 12 '11 at 18:32
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The French don't use love, but more oddly they don't use deuce (à deux) either. –  Henry Apr 12 '11 at 23:51
    
@Henry strangely enough they don't use the word "tennez" from which "Tennis" derives, they say "Tennis" ;) –  Julien Ch. Aug 9 '12 at 12:21

Just to add another queer theory, sometimes you have word pairs where the consonants are arranged from left to right and from right to left as in

Latin form-a, consonants F R M

Greek morf-áe, consonants M R F

In love /laf/ you have L F

In faillir you have F L.

French faillir means to fail. Sense here: to fail to make a point.

Please don't ask me why there are right-left variants and why love may be read backwards to make sense. I don't know. The only thing I know for sure there are right-left variants, quite a number.

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Do you have a citation for this, or is it original to you? Either way, not sure how it answers the question. –  James McLeod Jul 4 at 18:55
    
It is my idea. Love for cero points makes no sense at all. One explanation is French l'oeuf, because the form reminds of cero/naught, one explanation is to play for love. One explanation as queer as the other. And I see that love can be a right-left variant with the sense of fault/no point. I know my explanation seems curious as right-left etymology is no known thing, but it is no more curious than the other explanations. –  rogermue Jul 4 at 19:04
    
Can you provide any other examples? It seems a bit far-fetched to me. –  James McLeod Jul 5 at 2:41
    
German Loch rl English hole (rl means right left connection,) - G Topf rl G Pot, E pot - G läut-en rl E to toll (a bell) and about 200 others, pairs between various languages. –  rogermue Jul 5 at 2:54
    
Sounds like you are trying to explain a simple coincidence in spelling. The sounds came before the spelling, and there is no sound like English "h" in "loch." Regardless, this is not a discussion board and not an appropriate place to mount a discussion of your theory. –  James McLeod Jul 5 at 16:30

Two theories:

1: From œuf — French for egg — the sign for zero score is holding up your thumb and finger in a circle, like an egg

  1. Because you are playing for fun or love — rather than a score or money
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Saying that a player has scored zero seems pretty offensive. It makes him look like an incompetent fool. As long as the game goes on, the tables may turn anytime.

To make the player at the loosing end look good, his score is said to be 'love' i.e. he is playing for the love of the game and it doesn't matter if he is unable to score.

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This answer adds nothing new. May I suggest looking over our selection of unanswered or scarcely answered questions, where more input would be welcome. –  Matt E. Эллен Oct 24 '13 at 10:40

According to Oxford,

It seems to have been adapted from the phrase 'to play for love (of the game)' (i.e. to play for nothing). Although the theory is often heard that it represents the French word l'oeuf, meaning 'an egg' (from the resemblance between an egg and a nought) this seems unlikely.

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1  
I find it equally unlikely that they felt that people who actually scored points no longer enjoy playing. I guess this will have to remain a mystery. –  T.E.D. Jul 6 '12 at 16:02
    
@T.E.D., I doubt that’s what’s implied. Rather, the point is that you are playing for the points that you have, and of course to turn them into a win. But when you have no points, you have no points to play for, so you can only play out of love for the game. Still an odd, roundabout way of saying things (and an odd thing to say), but not quite so odd as to indicate that you stop loving the game as soon as you get points. –  Janus Bahs Jacquet Dec 22 '13 at 14:51

In tennis, scoring is a bit...unorthodox. In particular, love is equivalent to 0 points scored in a game, while fifteen actually means you've scored one point.

Love fifteen effectively indicates that the serving player has 0 points, while the receiving player has one.

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2  
+1 for calling it "...unorthodox" (the pause is significant, right?) –  Jürgen A. Erhard Apr 13 '11 at 0:17

"Love" means zero. In tennis, the server's score is given first, so "love-fifteen" means the server has no points, the opponent has fifteen.

The score in a tennis game progresses from love to fifteen to thirty to forty to game. If both players achieve forty then it's called a deuce. A player must win a game by two points, so the player who scores the next point is said to have "advantage." If the opposing player scores the next point, they go back to deuce.

It's a quirky scoring procedure. Its roots derive from French, not English, so I feel within my rights to declare ignorance without penalty at this point. :-)

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So it's quirky because it's french? How typically british... ;-) –  Jürgen A. Erhard Apr 13 '11 at 0:16
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I'm American. And taking a big chance here with "quirky" when I probably should use "freedom-hating." Will there be a strange click on the line the next time I call a friend? Oh well; worth it. –  mfe Apr 13 '11 at 0:39

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