the die is cast
Spotted in the wild:
- Unlike in a machine shop, where a part being machined can be checked for the dimensions during the process and corrected until the required results (dimensions) are obtained, in an iron foundry, metal derives its properties during cooling, and measuring and making changes during this period is not possible. Thus, once the metal is poured into the mould, the die is cast, literally! (Industrial Heating, Oct 01, 2002)
- Mr. Pendlebury just happens to operate a modest die casting business, one whose specialty is producing paperweights, one perfectly suited for Holland’s needs. Soon the die is cast (so to speak), and the pieces are in place, but, as everyone knows, even the best-laid plans are subject to disaster once in the implementation stage as the human element is always the most unpredictable. (Amazon customer review, May 11, 2005)
Arnold Zwicky quotes an e-mail from Keith Ivey:
> When I first heard the phrase “the die is cast”, I thought it meant that a mold for stamping out coins (for example) had already been produced from molten metal and thus set and could not be changed. I later learned that it referred to throwing a gaming cube. Apparently I’m not alone in having had this misapprehension.
He quotes a web site, supplied by Keith Ivey, too, on which someone states the same conviction about the expression’s origin and meaning:
> Perhaps you have heard the phrase ‘the die is cast’ or ‘the die has been cast’. This has nothing to do with gambling or dice; instead, it refers to a mold (die) which has been cast (made).
> Once the mold is made, everything which comes from it, will have the shape of the mold. ‘The die is cast’ thus states that a pattern has been laid down, and thus subsequent events will conform to the pattern. This phrase lends itself to assumptions about the future being predictable, once patterns are seen in the present.
It is easy to find other writers being unsure about this point:
> The Phrase Finder lists the origin of ‘The die has been cast’ as: ‘The die here is a dice. Julius Caesar is supposed to have said this when crossing the Rubicon.’
> However, my understanding was that ‘die’ in this case refers to the die used for forming material, and that ‘cast’ here does not mean ‘throw’ but rather ‘to form (molten metal etc.) into a particular shape by pouring into a mold’. So basically once the metal has been poured into the die it will set pretty quickly, and the shape (outcome) will be fixed. (link)
“Hidden” eggcorns are, in their most basic form, reanalyses of the meaning of a word or expression without any change in spelling. This lack of orthographic evidence makes it harder to find indisputable examples. It is quite possible that the authors of the two occurrences that are listed above were aware of the origin of the idiom and just decided to play on the words: we can’t know what they thought. It is, on the other hand, clear that, given the amount of uncertainty about the expression’s origin, genuine hidden eggcorn examples of _the die is cast_ must be out there.
See also _the dye is cast_.