No Dice (Origin)

by Craig Shrives

What Is the Origin of the Saying "No Dice"?

The term "no dice" means "no deal" or "not possible." It is typically a refusal to a proposition or an offer.
No Dice (Origin)

Example of use:

  • You want to trade Luke Skywalker for Yoda? No dice.
  • (In this example, "no dice" is a refusal to an offer.)
  • You want me to make dinner again? No dice.
  • (Here, "no dice" is a refusal to a proposition.)
  • I thought I could catch a train after the game but no dice. They stop running at 7 o'clock.
  • (Here, "no dice" simply means "not possible.")
"No dice" originates from America in the early 20th century. In most states, gambling was illegal. Therefore, when a gamblers' haunt was raided by the police, the gamblers would quickly hide, even swallow, their dice. Without dice to prove that gambling was taking place, the prosecution case was often thrown out of court by the judge.

This extract from a 1921 Texas newspaper, "The Port Arthur Daily News," captures this idea perfectly:
  • It's "no dice" when the bones can't be found, according to a local court decision. Six white men arrested Tuesday by Officer W D Moore and charged with gaming with dice.
    "Did you see them shooting dice?" queried the city attorney.
    "No, I did not see the dice," said the officer.
  • (This case was subsequently thrown out of court. Of interest, "bones" is a common metonym for dice as dice are often made from bone.)
It follows that "no dice" originally meant "no case to answer," and subsequently "nothing happening." It is a small leap from "nothing happening" to today's "no deal" or "not possible" meanings.

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See Also

What are idioms? What is figurative language? A list of common grammar errors A list of easily confused words A list of sayings and proverbs

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