Excellent explanation ! I would like to add that "tennis" comes from "tenez" ( imperative form of the French verb "tenir" )which I would translate in that case by "here you are" or something similar.
Reply from Hélène GOMEZ (Brest - France)
The French origin ( jeu de paume )seems to be the most appropriate explanation in as far as tennis comes from the French word "tenez" ( plural imperative from "tenir" ).
This has already been discussed. However, there seem to be two schools of thought on this one. The previous answer that 'love' is a corruption of the French word 'l'oeuf' (the egg), based on the supposed resemblance between an egg and a zero, is popular, but is rubbished by certain sources. The alternative theory put forward is that the term is derived from the phrase `to play for love' (that is, for the love of the game i.e. to play for nothing)- possibly a bit of sarcasm on the fact that no score has been achieved.
Another theory I just stumbled across is that 'love' comes from the Dutch/Flemish 'luf' (honour) ... a similar principle to the 'playing for nothing' theory, but with a different twist.
The jury seems to still be out on this issue - so make up your own mind which you favour.
Christine, According to the sources I checked most etymologists seem to feel that the “l’oeuf” (egg for zero) explanation is the less likely one.
Facts on File Encyclopedia of Word and Phrase Origins
LOVE: A person who fails to score in tennis might be said to be playing for the love of the game. According to this theory, which is widely supported, ‘love,’ for ‘zero in tennis,’ comes from the expression ‘play for the money or play for love [nothing].” The idea here is similar to that behind the word ‘amateur,’ which comes from the Latin ‘amare,’ to love, and strictly speaking means a person who loves a game or subject. But there is another explanation for the term ‘love’ in tennis, an expression used from at least 1742. ‘Love,’ for ‘goose egg,’ or ‘nothing,’ may have been born when the English imported the game of tennis from France. Because a zero resembles an egg, the French used the expression “l’oeuf,’ egg, for ‘no score.’ English players, in mispronouncing the French expression, may have gradually changed it to ‘love.’
Brewer’s Dictionary of Phrase & Fable
LOVE: In the sense ‘nil score in tennis,’ as ‘forty-love’ (40-0), ‘love-all’ (0-0), ‘love’ probably comes from the phrase ‘to play for love,’ meaning to play for the love of the game, i.e. without stakes. It is not likely to be a corruption of “l’oeuf,” the egg, as sometimes stated, on the grounds that a figure ‘0’ resembles an egg. In cricket, however, ‘out for a duck,’ said of a batsman dismissed without having scored any runs, derives from “duck’s egg,’ from the similarity between the egg and a large figure ‘0’ on the scoreboard.
<1742 “If your Adversary is 6 or 7 LOVE, and you are to lead.”—‘Whist’ by Hoyle, i. page 13>
<1780 “We are not told how, or by what means Six LOVE comes to mean Six to nothing.”—“Gentleman’s Magazine,” L. page 322/2>
<1797 “As the games are won, so they are marked and called; as one game LOVE, two games to one, &c.”—‘Encyclopedia Britannica’ (edition 3), XVIII. page 380/2>
(Oxford English Dictionary