The odds you’ve heard the term “No dice”? High. The odds you’ve heard the “odd” story of where it comes from? Much lower. Time to pull up the proverbial chair, folks, and let us spin you the yarn of how this well-trod term came to be.
April, 1921. Six men settle into a street corner in Port Arthur, Texas to play a quick game of dice. So far, so good. Except that at the time, gambling was much frowned upon by the Lone Star State. This would explain why all six men soon found themselves scooped up by a Texas lawman, Officer W.D. Moore, and sent to stand trial before a Texas judge. Shaking in their—presumably cowboy—boots, the six men awaited their fate, surely fearing they’d come out on the losing end of their gamble with the law.
Before we dive further into our tale, a quick sidebar on the history of dice.
On the history of dice: a primer
Prior to the development of industrial chemicals for common daily use, many of the things we now assume to have always been made from plastic, were in fact made from natural materials. These included wood, clay, porcelain, or—in the case of dice—the infinitely more digestible compound, bone. (Digestible? Yes. Stay tuned.)
Now, let’s roll back into our story.
According to legend, the story may have gone a little something like this: Six men face a Texas judge. Arresting officer Moore explains that he’d caught them red-handed, shooting dice on the fair streets of Port Arthur. A slam dunk for the prosecution, right?
Not quite. Moore’s charges elicit a single question from the court-appointed defence attorney: “Did you see them shooting dice?”
Now, as anyone with even a cursory knowledge of the legal system knows, to convict for a crime there must be evidence—in this case, dice—to prove that the men were in fact guilty.
Unfortunately for Moore, no such dice were in evidence that day. Why? One of the six men did what many law-breaking gamblers did at the time and swallowed the dice made of bone, as soon as Officer Moore appeared on scene. (We told you digestibility would matter.)
Forlorn, Officer Moore answers the attorney: “No, I did not see the dice.”
At this, the presiding judge replies: “No dice, no conviction!” and the case is dismissed.
And this, dear reader, is how the term “No dice!” came to be. After crossing over into common parlance sometime in the 1970s or ‘80s, the term still finds use to this day—including in this clip from The Simpsons. So, the next time you feel like giving someone a “no” with a bit more oomph, give “No dice!” a try instead.
Speaking of dice, ever wondered why today’s casino dice are made from clear plastic? It all comes down to law, order and security. Get the full story here.