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The meaning and origin of the expression: Nul points

Nul points

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What's the meaning of the phrase 'Nul points'?

'No points' - the lowest possible score awarded to performers in the Eurovision Song Contest. The term is also sometimes used as a jokey judgement on any hopelessly inept performance. This is sometimes accompanied by the raising of imaginary cards showing zero, in a mock simulation of the scoring in ice-skating competitions.

What's the origin of the phrase 'Nul points'?

The term is British in origin and derives from the scoring system of the annual Eurovision Song Contest, in which the scores for each contestant are read out in several languages. This was illustrated by Stephen Pile in his The Book of Heroic Failures, 1979:

"Singing an entrancingly drab number called 'Mile after Mile', a Norwegian pop singer, Mr Jan Teigan, scored nil in the 1978 Eurovision Song Contest. The voting was unanimous: 'Norway - no points - nul points - keine Pünkte'."

Nul pointsThe contest began in 1956 but the first opportunity for the use of 'nul points' came in 1962, when the Belgian contestant Fud Leclerc was given that score for his rendition of the truly artless song Ton Nom. Sadly, this was Leclerc's fourth attempt at the contest and, while managing at least a few points each for his other three performances, they are now long forgotten and he is only remembered outside Belgium for his 'nul points'.

The contest is taken seriously in some parts of Europe, but is regarded as a kitsch, camp comedy in Britain where the only real public interest lies in gawping at just how embarrassingly bad the costumes and performances can get. 'Nul points' has now become something of an accolade and many performers have become better known for scoring nothing than for winning.

My lovely horseThis attitude was picked up by Arthur Mathews and Graham Linehan, the writers of the British television comedy series Father Ted, when they wrote the A Song for Europe episode, which parodied the 'Eurosong' contest. The plot involved the lead characters writing the worst song they could imagine in order to avoid Ireland the expense of staging the following year's contest (in the real contest the winners do in fact stage the following year's competition and Ireland have won seven times). Their absurd comic entry, My Lovely Horse, was in reality better than many genuine entries have been. Of course, it goes without saying that it won.

Gary Martin - the author of the website.

By Gary Martin

Gary Martin is a writer and researcher on the origins of phrases and the creator of the Phrase Finder website. Over the past 26 years more than 700 million of his pages have been downloaded by readers. He is one of the most popular and trusted sources of information on phrases and idioms.

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