Understanding the Idiom: "come up with snake eyes" - Meaning, Origins, and Usage

Idiom language: English
Etymology: come up with +‎ snake eyes (“a pair of dice showing a value of 1”). This is a losing roll in many dice games.

The Origin of the Idiom

The origin of this idiom can be traced back to dice games, especially craps. In this game, rolling two ones (or a total of two) on a pair of dice is referred to as “snake eyes”. This roll is considered unlucky because it results in an immediate loss for the player. Over time, the term has evolved to encompass any situation where someone experiences bad luck or misfortune.

Usage Examples

The idiom “come up with snake eyes” can be used in various contexts. For instance, if someone invests all their savings into a business venture that fails miserably, they could say they came up with snake eyes. Similarly, if someone takes a risk but ends up losing everything instead of gaining anything from it, they could use this expression to describe their unfortunate situation.

Origins and Historical Context of the Idiom “come up with snake eyes”

The phrase “come up with snake eyes” is a popular idiom used in English to describe a situation where someone has failed or lost something. The origin of this phrase can be traced back to ancient times when gambling was prevalent in many cultures. In these games, players would roll dice made from animal bones, including those from snakes.

Snake eyes were considered unlucky because they only had one dot on each side, making them the lowest possible roll. If a player rolled two snake eyes, they would lose their bet and be left with nothing. This association between snakes and bad luck continued into modern times and became part of our language as an idiom.

The historical context of this phrase also includes its use in popular culture such as literature, movies, and music. For example, the famous American author Ernest Hemingway used this phrase in his novel “The Sun Also Rises,” which helped popularize it among English speakers.

In addition to its literary origins, the idiom has been featured in various films and television shows over the years. It has become a common expression used by people around the world to describe situations where things have not gone according to plan.

Usage and Variations of the Idiom “come up with snake eyes”

When it comes to idioms, their usage and variations can vary greatly depending on the context in which they are used. The same is true for the idiom “come up with snake eyes”. This phrase has been used in various ways throughout history, from describing a failed roll of dice to representing a disappointing outcome.

One common variation of this idiom is “roll snake eyes”, which refers specifically to rolling two ones on a pair of dice. Another variation is “draw snake eyes”, which can refer to drawing two cards with no value in certain card games.

In addition to its literal meaning, “snake eyes” can also be used metaphorically to describe any situation where one comes up empty-handed or experiences disappointment. For example, if someone fails an important exam despite studying hard, they might say that they “came up with snake eyes”.

The origins of this idiom are unclear, but it may have originated from the game of craps where rolling two ones was considered bad luck and referred to as “snake eyes”. Regardless of its origins, this phrase has become a common way to express disappointment or failure in everyday conversation.

Synonyms, Antonyms, and Cultural Insights for the Idiom “come up with snake eyes”


There are several expressions that can be used interchangeably with “come up with snake eyes.” One such phrase is “draw a blank,” which means to fail at recalling or producing something. Another synonym is “strike out,” which refers to failing repeatedly in an endeavor. Other options include “lose out” or “fall short.”


In contrast to the negative connotations of “coming up with snake eyes,” there are several antonyms that suggest success or good fortune. For example, one could say they hit the jackpot or struck gold when they achieve their desired outcome. Alternatively, someone who consistently succeeds might be described as having a Midas touch.

Cultural Insights:

The phrase “snake eyes” originates from dice games like craps where rolling two ones (or snakes) results in losing all bets placed on the roll. The term has since been adopted into broader use as a metaphor for failure or bad luck. In popular culture, it has been referenced in movies like Ocean’s Eleven and TV shows like Breaking Bad.

By examining synonyms and antonyms of idiomatic expressions like “come up with snake eyes,” we can gain a deeper understanding of their nuances and applications in everyday language. Additionally, exploring cultural references can provide context for how these phrases came about and why they continue to resonate today.

Practical Exercises for the Idiom “come up with snake eyes”

In order to truly understand and use the idiom “come up with snake eyes” effectively, it is important to practice using it in various contexts. Below are some practical exercises that can help you become more comfortable incorporating this phrase into your everyday language.

Exercise 1: Conversation Practice

Find a partner and engage in a conversation where you try to use the idiom “come up with snake eyes” at least once. This could be a casual conversation about your day or something more structured like a debate or discussion on a particular topic.


Person 1: I was really hoping my team would win the game last night, but they came up with snake eyes again.

Person 2: Yeah, they’ve been having a rough season so far. Maybe things will turn around soon.

Exercise 2: Writing Practice

Pick a topic and write a short paragraph (or longer if you’d like) incorporating the idiom “come up with snake eyes”. Try to make it flow naturally within the context of what you’re writing about.


I had been working on my novel for months, pouring all of my time and energy into it. But when I finally submitted it to publishers, I came up with snake eyes every time. It was discouraging, but I knew I couldn’t give up just yet.

Note: Remember that idioms should not be taken literally and may have different meanings depending on their context!

Common Mistakes to Avoid When Using the Idiom “come up with snake eyes”

When using idioms, it is important to understand their meaning and usage. The idiom “come up with snake eyes” is no exception. This expression refers to a situation where someone has failed or lost everything. However, there are some common mistakes that people make when using this idiom.

One mistake is using the idiom in inappropriate situations. For example, if someone uses this expression when talking about a minor setback or inconvenience, it may come across as insensitive or dramatic. It’s important to use the idiom only when referring to significant failures or losses.

Another mistake is misusing the tense of the verb “come.” The correct form of the idiom is “came up with snake eyes,” which implies that something has already happened and resulted in failure or loss. Using present tense like “coming up with snake eyes” can create confusion and weaken the impact of the expression.

Lastly, it’s essential not to mix metaphors when using idioms. Mixing two different expressions can lead to confusion and make you look unprofessional. Therefore, avoid combining “snake eyes” with other unrelated phrases such as “barking up the wrong tree.”

Common Mistakes Correct Usage
Using in inappropriate situations Use only for significant failures/losses
Misusing tense of verb ‘come’ ‘Came’ instead of ‘coming’
Mixing metaphors Avoid combining with other unrelated phrases
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