Friday, 12 July 2013

‘Fifteen, love’ and running from ‘Pillar to Post’

If you’re a keen tennis player or spectator, I’m sure you’ll agree that we have just had a thrilling and unforgettable fortnight of tennis at Wimbledon, resulting in the first British male player to win the championships since 1936, in the form of Andy Murray of course. But when you were watching the matches, did you ever link the game with the idiom ‘pillar to post’?

That idiom originates from tennis. In the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, tennis was a game played exclusively among the Aristocracies. A large area was needed to play the game, and as a result, courts were usually placed on roofs. The net was attached to a post at the side of the court that was then tied to a pillar that supported the stands on the other side of the court. And as is the case now, the idea was to get the opposing player to run rather raggedly in the hope it would mean you’d have a better chance of winning the rally. This is where the idiom to run from ‘pillar to post’ comes from.
And on a side note, I was asked a few weeks ago why is ‘love’ used to denote nil or zero points. That simply goes back to when tennis was played for love, rather than for any financial or personal reward.

So two interesting tennis-based etymologies.

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