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

Idiom language: English
Etymology: From the resemblance of the two single pips to the eyes of a snake.

The phrase “snake eyes” is a popular idiom in the English language that is often used to describe an unlucky outcome or situation. It has been around for many years and can be traced back to various sources, including gambling and dice games.

In its simplest form, snake eyes refers to rolling two ones on a pair of dice, which is considered the worst possible outcome in many games. However, the idiom has taken on a broader meaning over time and can now be used to describe any unfortunate event or circumstance.

Despite its negative connotations, snake eyes remains a widely recognized expression that is frequently used in everyday conversation. Understanding its origins and meanings can help you better navigate social situations and communicate effectively with others.

Origins and Historical Context of the Idiom “snake eyes”

The idiom “snake eyes” is a well-known phrase in modern English, often used to describe bad luck or an unfavorable outcome. However, the origins and historical context of this expression are not as widely known.

Ancient Dice Games

The use of dice for gambling dates back thousands of years, with evidence of ancient dice games found in civilizations such as Egypt, Greece, and Rome. In many cases, these early dice were made from animal bones or ivory and had markings that indicated different values.

One particular game played with two six-sided dice was known as “craps,” which is still popular today. The term “snake eyes” refers specifically to rolling two ones on a pair of dice during this game.

Superstitions and Folklore

In addition to its literal meaning in the game of craps, snake eyes has also taken on a symbolic significance throughout history. In some cultures, snakes are associated with deceit or danger, making them a symbol of bad luck.

Furthermore, there are various superstitions surrounding the number one itself – for example, some believe that it represents loneliness or isolation. When combined with the negative connotations attached to snakes, it’s easy to see why rolling snake eyes might be seen as particularly unlucky.

Usage and Variations of the Idiom “snake eyes”

One of the most prevalent uses of “snake eyes” is in reference to a roll of two ones on a pair of dice. This term originated from gambling culture and has since become a widely recognized phrase for bad luck or failure. However, there are also variations to this definition depending on context. For example, in military slang, “snake eyes” can refer to an unexploded bomb or missile that poses a danger to troops.

Another variation of this idiom can be found in popular culture references such as movies or TV shows. In these cases, “snake eyes” may be used metaphorically to describe someone who is untrustworthy or deceitful. Additionally, some people use “snake eyes” more broadly as a symbol for something negative or unpleasant.

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


There are several synonyms for “snake eyes” that refer to bad luck or a losing outcome. One common phrase is “craps out”, which comes from the game of craps where rolling two ones (or snake eyes) results in an automatic loss. Another synonym is “the kiss of death”, which implies that something is doomed to fail or have negative consequences. Similarly, “jinxed” suggests that someone or something is cursed with bad luck.


In contrast to the negative connotations of “snake eyes”, there are several idioms that express good fortune or success. For example, “hit the jackpot” refers to winning a large sum of money in gambling or other endeavors. Similarly, “strike it lucky” implies unexpected success or fortunate circumstances. Finally, the phrase “come up roses” means everything has turned out well and according to plan.

Cultural Insights
In Western culture, snakes have long been associated with danger and deceitfulness.
The term “snake eyes” originated from dice games such as craps where rolling two ones was considered unlucky.
The phrase has also been used in popular culture including films like Ocean’s Eleven and TV shows like The Sopranos.

Practical Exercises for the Idiom “snake eyes”

Exercise 1: Role Play

In this exercise, you will practice using the idiom “snake eyes” in a role play scenario. Find a partner and take turns playing the roles of two friends discussing their recent trip to Las Vegas. One friend should mention losing all their money at the craps table after rolling “snake eyes.” The other friend should respond with sympathy and understanding, using the idiom appropriately.

Exercise 2: Writing Practice

In this exercise, you will practice incorporating the idiom “snake eyes” into your writing. Choose a topic related to gambling or luck and write a short paragraph or story that includes at least one instance of using the idiom correctly. Be sure to use proper grammar and punctuation.


“As soon as he rolled snake eyes on his first turn, John knew it was going to be a bad night at the casino.”

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

When using the idiom “snake eyes”, it’s important to be aware of common mistakes that people make. These mistakes can lead to confusion or misunderstanding, and may even change the meaning of what you’re trying to say.

Avoiding Literal Interpretations

The first mistake to avoid is taking the idiom too literally. “Snake eyes” refers specifically to rolling two ones in a game of dice, but when used as an idiom, it means something entirely different. It’s important not to get caught up in the literal meaning and instead focus on how it’s being used in context.

Avoiding Overuse

Another mistake is overusing the idiom. While it can be a useful phrase in certain situations, using it too frequently can make your language sound repetitive or cliché. Be sure to vary your vocabulary and only use “snake eyes” when it truly fits the situation.

  • Avoid using “snake eyes” if you’re unsure of its meaning or origin.
  • Avoid making assumptions about what someone else means when they use this idiom.
  • Avoid using this phrase in inappropriate contexts or with people who may find it offensive.

By avoiding these common mistakes, you’ll be able to effectively incorporate “snake eyes” into your language without any confusion or misunderstandings!

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