The scoring system of tennis is somewhat arcane and the origins are not well understood. It is likely tennis derives from game played in medieval France in which a clock face was used to keep score. Points in the games were incremented in multiples of fifteen (the 'forty' call is thought simply to be short for 'forty-five', and sixty, the top score, was never called as the game ended when this score was reached). Other peculiarities of tennis scoring include the term 'deuce' and 'love'.

Is 'deuce' a corruption of the French phrase 'à deux de jeu' meaning 'two points away from the (end of the) game'?

  • Yes, or almost. This can be answered from a dictionary, so isn't a good question here. For example, this says deuce is from deus, Old French for two, and can mean: "A tied score in tennis in which each player or side has 40 points, or 5 or more games, and one player or side must win 2 successive points to win the game, or 2 successive games to win the set."
    – Hugo
    Commented Aug 6, 2012 at 18:52
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    This question should not be closed as general reference IMO as there isn't one that explains how deuce came to mean 40 all in tennis. Commented Aug 7, 2012 at 8:38
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    Another reason not to close it as general reference is that if it were, question #20733 should ought to be likewise. Commented Aug 9, 2012 at 5:04
  • I still think it's General Reference. I see nothing to suggest the origin of deuce in tennis relates to anything other than Fr. deux. But it's not two points away from game - it's both (two) players are still equally "in the game". Commented Aug 15, 2012 at 4:13
  • It may possibly be worth pointing out that in modern French (e.g. scoring at Roland Garros), there is a distinction between "quarante à" and "égalité", where they would both be "deuce" in English. Commented Feb 2, 2013 at 20:14

1 Answer 1


The etymology of deuce goes back to the:

late 15c., "toe 2 in dice or cards," also "a roll of 2 in dice" (1510s), from M.Fr. deus (Mod.Fr. deux), from L. duos (nom. duo) "two" (see two). Became a mild oath by 1710, about 50 years after it was first attested in the sense of "bad luck, the devil, etc.," perhaps because two was the lowest score, and probably by similarity to L. deus and related words meaning "god." Low German had der daus! in same sense 16c., which perhaps influenced the English form. Deuce coup is 1940s hot-rodder slang for "souped up two-door car," especially a 1932 Ford.

So, deuce means two and is used for other things besides tennis. Whether the deuce in tennis signifies that a player needs two consecutive points to win the game, or whether it means that the two players have equal scores, is contentious and best left to tennis historians. What we do know is that even though the term has its roots in French, it is not used in the French Open. They prefer égalité at Roland Garros :)

  • Françoise Bonnefoy's Jeu de Paume: History. Réunion des musées nationaux explains how the court was 90 feet (pieds du roi) with 45 feet on each side. After every point they moved 15 feet closer and served from there. If the server scored again, he or she would move another 15 feet. After 3 points could only move 10 feet closer. So deuce could be pre-revolution French and égalité could be post-revolution French.
    – Sukii
    Commented Jan 26, 2021 at 17:48

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