1. the score in tennis when both players have 40 points
2. used in questions for emphasizing how surprised or annoyed you are
3. a playing card with the number two or two marks on it
Origin and usage
The term deuce was first recorded in English in the context of the scoring of racket games at the end of the 16th century. Its previous use, meaning the two on dice or cards, dates back to the early 16th century. The second meaning above, as a euphemism for the devil, dates from the late 17th century.
Tennis’s scoring system is decidedly odd but very effective. A score of deuce indicates that both players have 40 points, which are actually three points (because the scoring goes 15, 30, 40). The use of the term deuce meaning ‘two’ in this situation apparently derives from the fact that in order to break the scoring deadlock, one player must score two successive points to win the game. As long as either player (or pair in doubles) fails to do that they can go back and forth, gaining and losing the advantage, as many times as it takes for one of them to score two points in a row. This can lead to some of the tensest and most thrilling spells in matches, especially when a set or the whole match hangs in the balance. Whoever devised the scoring system of tennis was, in my opinion, a genius.
” The Swiss fights his way to deuce but miscues to hand Murray the game.”
” Shall I call Mrs. Fairfax?” I asked. “Mrs. Fairfax? No; what the deuce would you call her for? What can she do?”
(Charlotte Brontë , Jane Eyre
ace, bagel, break, love