origin, Uncategorized

PPFF #170: love

Good morning,

I thought about folding this little Friday routine but I realised I really have nothing else to do outside work other than to feed and wash myself; no social or familial obligations, responsibilities or duties whatsoever that I needed some sense of continuity and rhythm for the sake of sanity and temporality, which I knew would inevitably lead to needless introspection, pointless questioning of existence, meanings, narratives, and the ensuing fall down the rabbit-hole etc. So here they are, a tad hackneyed, but nonetheless worth 5 minutes of your time the (possible) origins of ‘love’, 15, 30, and 40; the bizarre scoring system of modern tennis.

The common rubbish (albeit neat) we’re led to believe is that in medieval France clocks were used to keep scores with each point being indicated by moving the minute hand by increment of 15 minutes; 15, 30, 45, and game (or 60/0), and when later deuce was introduced, the 3rd point or 45 was changed to 40, so that 50 could be used to indicate ‘advantage’ in a deuce situation.

One of the reasons why this is rubbish is that clocks were a pretty precious commodity such that it would have been very unusual to find these things in sports courts; I mean I don’t really play tennis but have you noticed how fast these balls fly at Wimbledon? Another reason is that minute hands weren’t really a thing until quite late in the development of clocks.

A little less inspiring but a more convincing theory is that ‘jeu de paume’, a precursor to tennis (‘jeu de paume’ is to tennis as ‘fives’ is to squash) used to be played on a 90 ft long court, divided into 45 ft on each side. For the first two points, the player would move forward toward the net by 15 ft per point, but for the third point they would move only 10 ft to avoid being too close to the net.

And what about ‘love’ as zero? Find out more, read this (or this). It’s got something to do with eggs.

Have a lovely Friday





















etymology, origin

PPFF #137: Theater Centre

Good morning,

If you have a keen eye for detail, you may have noticed the inconsistency in spelling in the title; ‘theater’ being (North) American and ‘centre’ being British. This morning’s topic has nothing to do with the space for thespian endeavours nor the equidistant point of regular geometries, but all to do with the reason why we spell these in different ways. I say ‘the’, emphatically because unlike many origin stories of sayings, idioms and colloquialisms or etymologies of words we come across, (often inconclusive and ambiguous), the reason for the “two countries separated by a common language” almost points to one unequivocally distinct juncture; Noah Webster of Webster’s Dictionary.

In 1806 by compiling and publishing “A Compendious Dictionary of the English Language”, (somewhat politically motivated) Noah Webster brought about a significant spelling reform which included the most distinguishable features of the common American English spelling patterns (e.g. theatre/theater, sceptical/skeptical neighbor/neighbour etc.). It’s not that he came up with any of these spellings himself but that it was an attempt, successful one at that, to break away from the traditions of America’s old colonial ‘master’, i.e. the British. I was surprised to learn but it’s probably also worth mentioning that the spelling patterns we know in Britain aren’t as ‘authentic’ as we think. For example, Shakespeare’s ‘Loves Labours Lost’ was actually first printed as ‘Loves Labors Lost’, not ‘Loves Labours Lost’ (1598) but through superficial gallicising (not to be confused with gaelicising) efforts borne of ostentatious affectation to appear more French, by 1623 ‘Loves Labors Lost’ would be printed as ‘Loves Labours Lost’.  (Perhaps it’s worth mentioning although such words had made into the English vocabulary from French in the first place, by 16th century spellings of many words had already been economised and phoneticised from their original forms). I guess all things French were fashionable even then.

A slightly digressing but nonetheless interesting example of these differences in spelling is ‘aluminium’ or ‘aluminum’, those of you who read dictionaries for fun would already know, the word was coined by an Englishman as alumium (1808), then changed it to aluminum (the American spelling), but the British editors didn’t like it because it didn’t fit in well with existing element names such as sodium and potassium, so at their whim, they changed it in to aluminium (1812).

So there you have it. We sometimes spell things the way we do because although we hate to admit it, we’re secretly harbouring/harboring a little bit of love for all things French (cheese, wine and now spelling). And Americans decided to walk away from that love because they meant to express their newly gained independence and nationhood etc by all means available to them, which included the way they wrote – the debatable opinion that their spelling patterns are more logical, less superfluous and more phonetic is besides the point, I think.

Anyhow, have a good Fridé.

(did that work?)