Paulme: feminine. The paulme of the hand; also, a ball; (and hence) also, Tennis (play;) also, the Palme tree.
from A Dictionarie of the French and English Tongues (1611), by Randle Cotgrave
Fourthly, the inside of the Uvea is black’d like the walls of a Tennis-court, that the rayes falling upon the Retina, may not, by being rebounded thence upon the Uvea, be returned from the Uvea upon the Retina again; for such a repercussion would make the sight more confused.
Henry More (1614-87) – An Antidote against Atheism
The original form of tennis (known as real tennis to distinguish it from the later lawn tennis) was played with a solid ball on an enclosed court divided into equal but dissimilar halves, the service side (from which service was always delivered) and the hazard side (on which service was received).
(Also read from pillar to post)
Tennis was also played in the open air, down to about 1800 in England under the name field tennis.
Modern tennis was originally called lawn tennis. A greatly modified revival of field tennis, it was invented in 1874:
A new game has just been patented by Major Wingfield … ‘Lawn Tennis’ – for that is the name … is a clever adaptation of Tennis to the exigencies of an ordinary lawn.
Army and Navy Gazette
And, in August 1888, in St James’ Gazette:
It is melancholy to see a word which has held its own for centuries gradually losing its connotation. Such a word is ‘tennis’, by which nine persons out of ten today would understand the game of recent invention played on an unconfined court.
(Lawn tennis was introduced in 1874 under the name of sphairistike, a Greek coinage meaning playing at ball, from the root of sphere.)
In the form tenetz, the word is first recorded in English around 1400 in In Praise of Peace, by John Gower (circa 1330-1408).
But the game was mentioned earlier in Italy as tenes, in Cronica di Firenze, by Donato Velluti, who died in 1370. The game is said to have been introduced into Florence by French knights in 1325. But the game and the word tenes, recorded only in Velluti’s Cronica, were not long retained. The name, opposed to Italian word-formation, was manifestly foreign. Its use in Florence long before the earliest known English example implies that both the English and the Italian names had a common foreign source: French knights introduced the game at Florence, and the earliest English forms tenetz and teneys, with their final stress, imply French origin.
The problem is that the game has apparently never borne any such name in France, where, from 1355, it has been called la paulme, la paume (because, originally, the ball was struck with the palm of the hand).
The only French word akin in form is tenez (Old French tenetz). Tenez is a conjugated form of the verb tenir, meaning to hold, also to take, receive what is offered. Tenez!, a form of the imperative mood, is used to address more than one person, or one person only in a polite manner (using the vous form). This is why it has been suggested, since the early 17th century, that the name tennis originated in the French imperative tenez!, take!, receive!, supposedly called by the server to his opponent.
But no mention of this call has been found in French, where it must have been used if taken into Italian and English.
However, in the 16th-century Colloquies of Cordier and Erasmus, the server’s call is Latinised as accipe and excipe, which mean take, receive.
And, in his 1641 book Carmen de Ludo Pilae Reticulo, Bello comparato, victoria, & pace perpetua inde-ventura, the Frenchman R. Frissart drew a parallel between a long and contested game of tennis and the war waged by the kings of France and Spain. (Frissart described himself as ‘the oldest of living tennis players’.) He too used excipe to translate the server’s call:
- Triginta habeo. Excipe. (I score thirty. Take this.)
– Mitte. (Send it.)
These Latin words witness to the use of tenez, or some equivalent call in French, and favour the conclusion that this call gave rise to the 14th-century Italian name and to the English name.
However, it is worth noting that, in his text, Frissart calls the game pila palmaria (pila means ball and palmaria refers to the palm) and, in the title, ludo pilae reticulo (ludo means game and reticulo refers to the net).
The following seems to confirm that tennis and receive, catch were synonymous. In Basilikon Doron, or His Maiesties Instructions to his dearest Sonne, Henry the Prince (1603), James I wrote:
The exercises that I would haue you to vse (although but moderately, not making a craft of them) are running, leaping, wrastling,, fencing, dancing, and playing at the caitch or tennise, archerie, palle maille, and such like other faire and pleasant field-games.
French in turn borrowed the English word tennis in the late 19th century, making it, from a French viewpoint, an Anglicism and (probably) a boomerang word.
Jacques Callot – Le Miracle de Saint Mansuy. The game has been played in the open air. In the middle distance, there are jousts and other games.
A print by the French artist Jacques Callot (1592-1635) is called Le Miracle de Saint Mansuy. The Saint, followed by a prince, who is attended by his courtiers, is bringing back to life the prince’s son, who has been killed by the blow of a tennis ball. A ball lies by the boy’s side, and his racket is at his feet. He is supported by a servant, who lifts him up by the shoulders.
Because of such accidents, and because we know that the Company of Ironmongers sold tennis balls in the late 15th century, it has been suggested (by Anatoly Liberman for example - here) that tennis balls were at one time made of iron. If they were, tennis would once have been a deadly occupation indeed…
But the facts are different. The Company of Ironmongers had their own tennis court, for which they made balls so well that they were in demand with players in other courts. And an ordinary real-tennis ball, striking a child with force on the temple, would be likely enough to cause death.
Far from being made of iron, tennis balls used to be stuffed with hair, if we are to believe the English dramatist William Shakespeare (1564-1616) in Much Ado About Nothing (around 1598):
– Don Pedro: Hath any man seen him at the barber’s?
– Claudio: No, but the barber’s man hath been seen with him, and the old ornament of his cheek hath already stuffed tennis balls.
– Leonato: Indeed, he looks younger than he did, by the loss of a beard.
Tennis was also mentioned by Shakespeare in The Life of King Henry the Fifth (around 1599):
– First Ambassador: You cannot revel into dukedoms there.
He therefore sends you, meeter for your spirit,
This tun of treasure; and, in lieu of this,
Desires you let the dukedoms that you claim
Hear no more of you. This the Dauphin speaks.
– Henry V: What treasure, uncle?
– Duke of Exeter: Tennis-balls, my liege.
– Henry V: We are glad the Dauphin is so pleasant with us;
His present and your pains we thank you for:
When we have march’d our rackets to these balls,
We will, in France, by God’s grace, play a set
Shall strike his father’s crown into the hazard.
Tell him he hath made a match with such a wrangler
That all the courts of France will be disturb’d
Shakespeare uses the word chace, which is also found along with the first recorded use of the word tennis (around 1400), in In Praise of Peace, by John Gower (circa 1330-1408):
Of the tenetz to winne or lese a chace, (In the [game of] tennis, to win or lose a chase)
Mai no lif wite er that the bal be ronne (no man knows before the ball is run)
In the medieval game of tennis, chase refers to the second impact on the floor (or in a gallery) of a ball which the opponent has failed or declined to return; the value of which is determined by the nearness of the spot of impact to the end wall. The question of winning a chase at tennis is not one which is decided at once by the stroke that is made, but depends on later developments. This is because, if the opponent, on sides being changed, can better this stroke (i.e. cause his ball to rebound nearer the wall), he wins and scores it; if not, it is scored by the first player. Until it is so decided, the chase is a stroke in abeyance. In other words, in tennis, as in life, the significance of a given action can be understood only in retrospect.
The metaphor used by John Gower is the first known use of the word tennis in English, but it is not the first reference to the game. Geoffrey Chaucer (circa 1343-1400) wrote, in Troilus and Criseyde:
Thow biddest me I shulde love another
Al fresshly newe, and lat Criseyde go!
It lith nat in my power, leeve brother;
And though I myght, I wolde nat do so.
But kanstow playen raket, to and fro,
Nettle in, dok out, now this, now that, Pandare?
Now foule falle hire for thi wo that care!
You bid me let Criseyde go, and get me another fresh new love. It lies not in my power, dear friend, and even if I could I would not. Can you play at rackets with love to and fro, in and out, now this and now that. May woe come to her who cares for your woe.