• tennis •
ten-is • Hear it!
Part of Speech: Noun, mass
Meaning: A game played with rackets and a light ball by two players or two pairs of players on a rectangular court of grass, clay, or asphalt, divided by a net over which the ball is hit.
Notes: Remember that in 1874 the equipment and rules for lawn tennis were patented under the name of sphairistike. Since this name was too difficult to pronounce, it was replaced by tennis. Recall also that the scoring in tennis has the peculiar word for "zero": love (see the Word History of love for that story).
In Play: In US parks, visitors are warned against leaving cans of tennis balls in their cars. Why? Tennis balls come in sets of three in elongated cans about the same size as the cans of certain machine-made potato chips (crisps). Bears in some parks have learned that they can find a nice treat inside these odd-sized cans but, since they still cannot read, they cannot tell the difference between the two types of cans. Could you bear a game of tennis knowing this?
Word History: Today's healthy and stimulating game was introduced in Florence by French knights in 1325 under the name of tenes. It is mentioned under this name in La Cronica di Firenze by Donato Velluti, who died in 1370. The game originated in France, where it was called la paume. Apparently the French knights called out, Tenez! "Hold! Keep (in hand)!" at the beginning of each serve and the Italians took this word for the name of the game. English borrowed the game and its name from the Italians, for its name began in Old English as tenneys, though with the French accent on the end. Tenez is the plural or polite imperative of the French tenir "to hold, keep". Its present participle tenant "holding, keeping" is visible in lieutenant, from lieu "place" + tenant "holding, holder".