Word of the Month: Deuce

David Zapatka

Watching the Australian Open Tennis Championships reminded me of the strange way tennis is scored. Zero is announced as love. Theory is that love arose from the French word for “egg,” l’oeuf, because a zero on a scoreboard resembles an egg; a clever but unsubstantiated claim. One point is called 15, two is 30 and three is 40. The final point is called game. At 40-40, it’s called deuce which means two. Whether the deuce in tennis signifies that a player needs two consecutive points to win the game (“deux du jeu” means two points away from winning) or whether it means that the two players have equal scores is up for debate. When playing cards, a two is referred to as a deuce. Dice games refer to two spots on a die as deuce. Old English novels used the word deuce to mean bad luck or something notable. This led me to this month’s word of the month, deuce.

Deuce – noun, \ ˈdüs also ˈdyüs \ 1. The face of a die that bears two spots. 2. A playing card bearing the index number 2. 3. A tied score in tennis when each player has won three points. Verb, to bring the score of a tennis game to a tie.

First known use – 15th century. Origin and etymology – Middle English dewes, from Anglo-French deus two, from Latin duos, accusative masculine of duo two. This etymology comes from the Old English Dictionary. “As ‘the deuce’ was the lowest throw [at dice], the phrase, uttered in vexation, seems to have come to be accepted as an equivalent to ‘the plague,’ ‘the mischief,’ and with a little more emphasis, to ‘the devil,’ with which the alliteration would readily associate it. Like other words used in colloquial imprecation, deuce has lost definite meaning, and has been subjected (in Low German, German and Scandinavian) to more or less wilful [sic] variation with other words. Cf. Low German de duks! equivalent to Engl. the dickens! Low German dücker, deuker, deiker, ‘the deuce’.”

Examples of deuce used in a sentence:

You want an ace for three hands, you’ll get it when your straight needs a deuce. – Ruell, Patrick THE ONLY GAME, 2001

The score had sunk to forty-love and she’d fought back to deuce. – Trenhalle, John A MEANS TO EVIL, 2001

Remember Manfred Mann’s Earth Band song, Blinded by the Light, where he sings, “Blinded by the light. Revved up like a deuce. Another runner in the night?” The lyric is a reference to a hot rod “deuce coupe,” a slang term used to refer to the 1932 Ford coupe. In the 1940s, the ‘32 Ford became an ideal hot rod, being plentiful and cheap enough for young men to buy and available with a stylish V-8 engine.

In what context do you use the word deuce? Please submit your experiences, any thoughts on this month’s column or any word you may like to share along with your insights and comments to
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