Word of the Day


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Liz Potter
Written by Liz Potter


to beat someone by six games to nil in a set of tennis

View the full definition in the Macmillan Dictionary.

Origin and usage

The noun and verb bagel come from the Yiddish word ‘beygel’ denoting a hard round bread roll with a hole in the middle. The noun has been in use since the late 19th century but the verb and its related noun sense date from the 1970s.


As Kerry Maxwell explains in her Buzzword on the subject, the first known use of the term bagel in relation to tennis came in the 1970s, when an American player called Eddie Dibbs used it to refer to a score of no games won in a set of tennis. As so often happens in English, the noun was soon verbed, leading to examples like the ones below. As Kerry also points out, there is a precedent for food metaphors in tennis scoring: the odd use of the word ‘love‘ to refer to zero points in a game is believed to derive from the resemblance between a zero and an egg (‘oeuf’ in French); the English term would thus be a characteristic mispronunciation of the French word. This origin is contested, although as Michael Rundell points out in a post on tennis terminology,  there is a similar usage in cricket, where a score of zero runs is referred to as a ‘duck‘, from the fancied resemblance of a zero to an egg, in this case a duck egg.


“Andrea Kevakian bagelled Bryant’s Briana Leonard in the first round, but lost to tournament champion Anna Shkudun.”
(enTenTen15 corpus)

“Keothavong, however, was bagelled in the deciding set of her prelim opener by Czech player Birnerova after the two ladies traded sets at 6-3 apiece.”
(Eurosport AU)

Related words

advantage, deuce, break, fault

Browse related words in the Macmillan Thesaurus.

About the author

Liz Potter

Liz Potter

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