Jewish World Review Sept. 10, 2003 / 13 Elul, 5763
Editors of Merriam-Webster's Collegiate
Why do we call a zero score in tennis "love''?; "biannual'' or "semiannual''?; Is there any difference between "further'' and "farther''?; dilemma of using "dilemma''
Why do we call a zero score in tennis "love''?
Dear J. G.:
There are two different theories on how "love'' came to mean a score of zero in tennis. The first is probably fanciful, but it makes an attractive story.
It suggests that the tennis sense of "love'' is derived from the French "l'oeuf,'' meaning literally "the egg.'' It is said that when the game was imported into France from England, the French used the word "l'oeuf'' to mean "zero,'' due to the resemblance of an egg to the written figure zero - just as a score of zero is now sometimes called a "goose egg.'' English players mispronouncing the French word may have influenced the change to "love,'' and the rest is history, so to speak. The big problem here is the lack of evidence that "l'oeuf'' has been used in French to mean "zero.''
Another, and far more widely accepted, theory is that this sense of "love'' comes from the expression "to play for love.'' The idea is that a person who fails to make any points is playing for love, rather than playing to win, or playing for stakes. A similar idea is found in the origin of the word "amateur,'' which comes from the Latin word "amare,'' meaning "to love.''
_K. V., Olympia, Wash.
Dear K. V.:
The word "biannual'' is a bit of a troublemaker, as it can be used to mean both "occurring twice a year'' and "occurring every two years.'' (The prefix "bi-'' means simply "two,'' and thus its meaning is ambiguous in time words like this one, as well as "biweekly'' and "bimonthly.'') The former sense is older and more common, but the latter sense is also well established in our language.
If the context in which you are using the word does not make its meaning clear, you would be wise to choose another word. The word "biennial'' is a good choice when one wants the meaning "occurring every two years,'' as that is always what it means. In your case, the best choice is "semiannual,'' which always means "occurring twice a year.'' We often see this word in advertisements of sales that are held every six months.
_M. J., Tucson, Ariz.
Dear M. J.:
"Farther'' and "further'' have been used more or less interchangeably throughout most of their history, but currently they are showing signs of diverging. As adverbs they continue to be used interchangeably whenever spatial, temporal, or metaphorical distance is involved. But where there is no notion of distance, "further'' is used, as in "This point can be further argued.'' "Further'' is also used as a sentence modifier, as in, "Further, the staff was no longer in doubt,'' but "farther'' is not.
Additionally, a polarizing process appears to be taking place in their use as adjectives. "Farther'' is taking over the meaning of distance, as in "the farther city.'' "Further'' is taking over the meaning of addition, as in "needs no further reason.''
_R. L., Franklin, Mass.
Dear R. L.:
Some people insist that "dilemma'' can only be used in instances in which the alternatives to be chosen are equally unsatisfactory. This concern, however, is misplaced. The unsatisfactoriness of options is usually a matter of how the speaker or writer presents them. What is distressing or painful about a dilemma is the need to make a choice one does not want to make.
"Dilemma'' seems to be losing some of its unpleasant force, a development borne out by the use of modifiers such as "terrible,'' "painful,'' and "irreconcilable.'' There also appears to be a growing tendency to apply it to less weighty matters.
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09/02/03: "Out loud'' rather than "aloud''; "pushing the envelope''; "without rhyme or reason''
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