Grammar Girl here. I’m Mignon Fogarty, and
you can think of me as your friendly guide to the English language—writing, history,
rules, and cool stuff. Today I respond to a listener question about when to capitalize
“Google,” and I have a meaty middle about why we call the score of zero in tennis “love.” Jeannie A. from Chicago, Illinois, wrote,
“If you’re using the proper noun ‘Google’ as a verb, do you capitalize it?”
If Google executives care about their trademark, they would like you to not use “Google” as
a verb since doing so threatens that trademark, but as you know, it’s very common to hear
people say, “I Googled it,” to mean they searched for something on Google.
AP style is to capitalize “Google” when you use it as a verb, when you say you Googled
something or are Googling something. The Chicago Manual of Style also says to capitalize trademarks
such as Google, but notes that although this is what corporations would prefer, it’s
not a legally binding rule, and they note that Webster’s includes lowercase entries
for both “google” and another company name that has become a verb: “xerox.”
The Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary lists the verb “google” as lowercase, but notes
that it is often capitalized. The Oxford English Dictionary entry shows the verb “Google”
capitalized, but says it can also be lowercase. And Garner’s Modern English Usage says it
can go either way but that it’s more common to keep “Google” capitalized than to write
it lowercase. The bottom line is that you don’t have to
capitalize it unless your following AP or Chicago style, but it’s probably a good
idea to do it anyway. And no matter what you decide, pick one way of doing it and being
consistent instead of flipping back and forth between two styles. Be deliberate.
Finally, remember how I said at the beginning that Google executives wouldn’t want you
to use “Google” as a verb if they care about their trademark? Well, maybe they don’t
care, because a couple of years ago, Nancy Friedman, a corporate naming expert who goes
by @fritinancy on Twitter, found an ad for Chromebook computers that deliberately used
the product name, Chromebook, as a verb. It read, “If you’re over the old way of doing
things, you Chromebook.” And in case you’re curious, they did capitalize “Chromebook.”
So that’s your Quick and Dirty Tip: It’s common to use certain company or product names
as verbs, and when you do, it’s usually better to capitalize them.
Before we get to strange tennis terms, today we’re sponsored by Blinkist.
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com slash GRAMMAR. It’s almost July. And that means it’s
time for Wimbledon, the most widely watched tennis tournament in the world. It’s played
on the grassy courts of The All England Lawn Tennis & Croquet Club, just southwest of London.
The first Wimbledon championships were held in 1877. They featured a field of 22 men,
who were advised to bring their own racquets and to wear “shoes without heels.” The
balls were hand-sewn, with a flannel casing. The racquets were made of wood and looked
distinctly like snowshoes. The event was so successful that a women’s
championship was added seven years later. First prize for the ladies was a silver flower
basket, valued at 20 guineas. Fast forward about a hundred years. In 2018,
the winner of the women’s tournament, Angelique Kerber, took home 2.25 million pounds (that’s
about 2.8 million US dollars). Her racquet was made of a carbon-graphite compound originally
developed for use in space flight. And the balls she played with had to match international
standards dictating their mass, size, deformation, and rebound.
In other words, things have changed. One thing that hasn’t changed though is
the weird scoring system used in tennis. Let’s start with “love” — the word
that means “zero” in tennis. When a match starts, the score is zero-zero;
in the tennis world, that’s called “love all.”
There are a couple of theories on why. One is that the number zero has an oval shape,
just like an egg. The French word for “egg” is “l’oeuf.” Say “l’oeuf” five
times fast, and it starts to sound like “love.” L’oeuf, l’oeuf, l’oeuf, l’oeuf, l’oeuf.
Seems like a bit of a stretch, until you consider the fact that we also call “zero” on a
scoreboard a “goose egg.” Sports fans have been saying this since at least 1867
… about the time the first tennis matches were being played.
Another theory is related to the expression “to play a sport for love,” as opposed
to playing for money. This refers to the practice of playing a competitive game simply for the
fun of it, not because you might win a prize. In other words, just for the love of the game,
you’d accept a score of love, and keep on playing.
This explanation is suggested but not verified by the Oxford English Dictionary. The OED
also notes that “love” has been used for centuries to mean “zero” in other games,
such as bridge and whist, the card game from which bridge is derived.
So in tennis, “love” means “zero.” What’s also odd is that instead of counting
points as 1, 2, 3, and 4, in tennis, you count them as 15, 30, 40, and game. In other words,
winning a fourth point wins you the game (provided you’ve won by two points).
So why does tennis do this? It’s because tennis is based on a much earlier
game known as “jeu de paume,” meaning “game of palms.” It got this name because
players used their hands, rather than racquets, to bat a ball back and forth.
In this game, courts were 90 feet long, with 45 feet on either side of the net. When a
player won a point, they got to move up 15 feet, and start the next point from there.
If they won another point, they could move up another 15 feet. But if they won a third
point, they couldn’t move up 15 more feet, or they’d be sitting right on top of the
net. So, this theory goes, they would move up another 10 feet. Thus, their progression
forward would be to 15 feet, then 30 feet, then 40 feet— which corresponds to the 15-30-40
scoring method we use in tennis today. The second theory is that tennis’s scoring
system is based on the movement of hands around a clock, with the quarter hours—15, 30,
and 45—being progress points in winning the game.
This theory is a little shaky because the third point in a tennis game isn’t called
45. It’s called 40. But, this theory goes, maybe it took too long for players to say
“45,” so over time, it was shortened to “40.”
Once again, this seems like a bit of stretch. However, consider the fact that amateur tennis
players often shorten “15” to “five” when calling out their scores, purely because
it’s easier to say. So it’s not unreasonable that the same thing happened with “45”;
it was eventually shortened to “40.” As strange as tennis scoring is, at least
the sport didn’t retain the very strange name it was almost given: “sphairistiké.”
That’s what the originator of modern tennis, one Major Walter Clopton Wingfield, called
it back in 1873. And why not? In Greek, “sphairistiké” means “skill in playing at ball.”
The Major’s friends loved his game but suggested a simpler name: “lawn tennis.” And fortunately,
that’s the name that has stuck around until today.
That segment was written by Samantha Enslen who runs Dragonfly Editorial. You can find
her at or on Twitter as @DragonflyEdit.
Finally, I have a familect story. This one made me laugh:
“Hi Mignon. I’m Dave from Michigan, and I have a familect story that comes complete
with sound effects. When my children were little, we would occasionally take them out
to a restaurant for dinner, and as is often the case, they wouldn’t finish all of their
meal. So I got into the habit of eating some or all of the leftovers on the plate. We called
this “seagulling” after the birds that we’d see picking at food at the beach. We
would ask, “Are you going to seagull that before we go?” or “Hey, no seagulling;
I’m not done yet.” We even short-handed it to make the sound of a seagull. We would
just say, “Maw-maw, maw-maw,” as we swooped in for those last few fries. I don’t recommend
seagulling as I think it contributes to getting a dad bod. Thanks, Mignon. I’m a huge fan
of your books and podcast. Bye.” Thanks, Dave. If you want to tell me a story about a word
that your family made up and uses, you can leave a voicemail at 83-321-4-GIRL and I might
play it on the show. I’m Mignon Fogarty, better known as Grammar
Girl. Did you know that Grammar Girl is part of the Quick and Dirty Tips podcast network,
which I founded, and which has a bunch of other shows. You can make your life better
by listening to the Get-Fit Guy, the Mighty Mommy, Everyday Einstein, who talks about
science, and a whole bunch more. Check them out wherever you listen to podcasts. That’s
all. Thanks for listening.

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Dennis Veasley

2 thoughts on “Grammar Girl #700. When to Capitalize ‘Google.’ Why Zero is ‘Love’ in Tennis.”

  1. 8:20 The whole abrreviation theory seems like a lazy, tenuous explanation until you take into account that you call out the score out loud and you need to say it loud enough for your opponent to hear. And courts aren't in a vacuum. Usually there are other matches going on, as well as street/park noise, etc. After you've just sprinted a good distance every single point for 50 points in a row, you'd abbreviate too. I was a 4.5 to 5.0 men's player (2.0 = amateur, 7.0 = Roger or Serena) in college, and I can confirm people say, "five" all the time in lieu of fifteen.

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