The Reason Wimbledon Umpires Learn Other Languages Isn’t What You Think

The tradition of the worldwide tennis championship known as Wimbledon has been ongoing for 150 years since its inception in the 1870s, according to the official website of Wimbledon. With that many tennis matches, it’s easy to imagine that over the course of a century and a half that a few expletives have been loudly uttered in moments of frustration. 

But cursing on the court is frowned upon. In fact, players are prohibited from swearing loudly during matches or, as using curse words during professional tennis is officially called, uttering “audible obscenities.” If an umpire hears an athlete belt out a string of cuss words — or even just one — that athlete is eligible for a fine of up to $20,000, according to the Official Grand Slam Rule Book. So much for putting a quarter in the swear jar. 

Flagging swear words seems straightforward enough, but not when you consider the myriad languages spoken by Wimbledon players. In the 2021 championship, there are nearly 60 countries represented, per Wimbledon

Sure, there are some crossover nations that speak the same languages, but the umpires need to know what the swear words are in a vast array of tongues, from Japanese to Swedish, Hindi to Austrian, Ukrainian, to Chinese. The umps need to know profanity in both Arabic and Hebrew, as well as Portuguese and Spanish. It’s their job to catch expletives in all the languages. The point is, that’s a lot of flashcards. 

Sometimes swear words just slip out

It’s kinda fun to imagine the 377 official Chair and Line Umpires at Wimbledon for the 2021 championships bonding by testing each other’s multi-lingual proficiency of all things profane. There is a real opportunity for creativity there. Not that we think that actually happens amongst the professional rule enforcers at the world’s biggest tennis matches. In reality, umpires are responsible for keeping it clean on the courts where obscene outbursts and unsportsmanlike conduct are not tolerated. 

According to the Official Grand Slam Rule Book, which covers the expectations for not only Wimbledon, but the U.S. Open, the Australian Open, and the French Open, players are prohibited from using audible obscenities not just during a match, but even during warm-ups. Audible obscenities are defined as “words commonly known and understood to be profane and uttered clearly and loudly enough to be heard by the Chair Umpire, spectators, Line Umpires or Ballpersons.” 

In such a high-stakes situation, though, sometimes a player will forget themselves in a moment of frustration. It definitely happens. According to The New York Times, tennis-stars-a-plenty have been fined for their foul mouths in various tennis championships — Serena Williams, Heather Watson, Nick Kyrgios, and Andy Murray, to name a few. 

Snopes reports that while umpires are “made aware of” the many options for swear words they could hear on the court, it’s not clear if it’s required that they must learn them all. But it seems they would, at least just for fun. 

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