Varieties: α. ME te’netz, ME teneys, 15 ten(n)es; β. ME tenyce, tenyys, ME–15 tenys, tenyse, tennys, tennyse, 15 tenice, tennysse, (tinnis), 15–16 tenis, tenise, tennise, tennice, (16 Sc. tinneis), 15– tennis.
Etymology: Identified c1400 in type te’netz, later te’nnes, te’neys, -ys, -yce, te’nise; in Italian talked about within the Cronica di Firenze of Donato Velluti (who died in 1370) as tenes, and mentioned to have been launched into Florence by French knights early within the yr 1325.
—Oxford English Dictionary
Within the English language, sports activities, for essentially the most half, have assumed intuitive and descriptive names. The phrase baseball, for example, is a compound that mixes base and ball, two objects central to the sport. Basketball signifies which means by the same logic, as does European soccer. Endurance sports activities are much more easy: Take swimming, operating, biking, nouns that derive merely from the actions themselves. Nonetheless others, whereas not utterly clear, aren’t too tough to hint again to their roots; fencing, for instance, was apparently shortened from defence (the British spelling of protection), someday through the Renaissance.
However what in regards to the etymology of tennis? The place and the way did this phrase and its which means originate?
Etymologists have batted round tennis for years—a whole lot of years, really, going again to no less than 1617, when linguist John Minsheu made a declare that, in lots of circles, nonetheless holds water right now. Because the Oxford English Dictionary recounts, Minsheu argued that tennis derives from the French crucial tenez, which means “maintain,” or extra aptly, “take, obtain.” (Anthropologist John Fox, in his e book The Ball, interprets tenez extra colloquially as “take heed.”) The argument goes that, someday across the sport’s medieval beginnings, in 12th-century France, tenez functioned as a type of verbal ritual, a good warning referred to as out by servers to their opponents earlier than beginning some extent. By and by, English audio system picked up the sport and, presumably, the utterance. Whereupon, having migrated into widespread utilization, it was, to the OED’s finest information, first written down as te‘netz, round 1400.
This nascent sport solely rudimentarily resembled present-day tennis. However extra importantly for etymologists, the French didn’t name the sport tenez. It was, to the monks and abbots who popularized it, jeu de paume—“the sport performed with the palm of the hand,” mainly a type of handball. As John Fox tells it, early jeu de paume featured no nets or racquets; these wouldn’t seem till the 16th century. Moderately, the sport’s guidelines and implements would develop by way of years of back-and-forth inside the boundaries of cloisters, coated walkways in medieval monasteries.
(Cloister sport could possibly be a supply of battle within the medieval Church, given its austere morals. Humorous sufficient, Fox digs up the story of an “illicit pickup tennis league,” which, in 1451, prompted an excoriating response from the Bishop of Exeter. Wrote the Bishop:
Some members of the clergy in addition to of the laity…apparently don’t have any scruples about taking part in a sport, or moderately, an evil sport referred to as “tennis” within the vernacular, within the churchyard and the above-mentioned collegiate church of St. Mary, consecrated for Christian burials…In so doing they inveterately voice useless, heinous, and blasphemous phrases and utter mindless curses.
“As if blaspheming weren’t sufficient,” Fox continues, “the rowdy monks have been additionally accused of dismantling a picket construction on the cloister’s penthouse roof as a result of it obtained in the way in which of ball play.”)
But when the French knew their sport not as tenez however jeu de paume—and if, in reality, they’d use jeu de paume solely till the arrival of contemporary “garden tennis,” within the late 1800s—what’s to assist Minsheu’s claims? The place’s the proof that French gamers really shouted tenez throughout matches? Tennis-related vociferation abounds in literature. However troublesomely sufficient, no point out of tenez, in French, has ever been discovered.
In view of this, quite a few linguists have supplied up various etymologies. In response to Fox, “One has argued for the sport’s Arabic origins, claiming that its identify refers back to the historical sunken metropolis of Tinnis within the Nile Delta; it was well-known for its materials, which, he guessed, might have been used to stuff balls…One other speculated that it derived from the previous German phrase for a threshing ground, tenni, which can have at occasions doubled as a tennis court docket. One more thought it was an English phrase that got here from any early model of the sport performed with ten gamers.”
Nonetheless, for many, Minsheu’s tenez-tennis connection stays compelling, primarily as a result of tenes, Italian for tenez, is clearly documented in Donato Velluti’s work Cronica di Firenze. For within the Cronica, Velluti tells the story of some 500 French knights who visited Florence in 1325, bringing with them implements for jeu de paume, which they took to taking part in with the clergy. As Velluti writes, “An Italian priest performed all day with them at ball, and presently was the start in these components of taking part in at tenes.”
And so founds Minsheu et. al.’s etymology: Launched to the sport by the French, the Italian and English would name it not handball however tennis.
Addendum: For all logophiles, Minsheu’s level can also be buttressed by further proof in Latin. Notes the OED,
There may be after all the issue that no point out of this name has but been present in French, the place it should have been used if thence taken into Italian and English. However within the Colloquies of Cordier and Erasmus, the server’s name is latinized as accipe and excipe, and within the Carmen de ludo pilæ reticulo of R. Fressart, Paris, 1641, ‘excipe’, ‘pilam excipe’, ‘mitto pilam in tectum, excipe’, with different makes use of of excipere and accipere, happen eight occasions within the portion printed by Julian Marshall Annals of Tennis 27–9. These Latin phrases witness to the usage of tenez or some equal name in French, and favour the conclusion that this name gave rise to the 14th c. Italian and English identify.