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Friday, June 22, 2012


Wimbledon opens on Monday, so time to look at the word "tennis". The game of batting a ball around a court seems to have been brought to England by the French in the 1300s. The French apparently yelled, “Tenez!” (“Here, take it!”) before they served. The English pronounced this as t'NETZ, then t'NESS, until finally we ended up with “tennis”. In 1873 a version of the game played outdoors on a lawn was invented, and dubbed with the unwieldy faux Greek name “sphairistike”, purportedly meaning “the art of ball-playing” and pronounced sfair-ISS-ticky. Not being stupid, people opted for the more manageable “lawn tennis” the inventor also offered. And then, ironically, the French borrowed the word back from English as le tennis.
For the history of the word "racquet", click here.

1 comment:

  1. Hello,

    For someone less at ease with English, I would need to ask: but why was the "n" doubled ? I suppose it was done in order to better approximate the pronunciation, according to the rules of English.

    Still, what would the pronunciation of just "tenis" be ?

    Thank you.


About Me

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Canada's Word Lady, Katherine Barber is an expert on the English language and a frequent guest on radio and television. She was Editor-in-Chief of the Canadian Oxford Dictionary. Her witty and informative talks on the stories behind our words are very popular. Contact her at wordlady.barber@gmail.com to book her for speaking engagements; she can tailor her talks to almost any subject. She is also available as an expert witness for lawsuits.