To say the die is cast is to suggest that a process is past the point of return. In the metaphorical phrase, die refers to a numbered cube used in gaming (the singular of dice), and cast means thrown.
The phrase is attributed to Julius Caesar, who reportedly said it (in Latin) as he crossed the Rubicon river with one of his legions to start the civil war that would bring him to power. The Rubicon was the northern border of the Roman republic, and Caesar was not in a position to legally command soldiers within Rome. As the offense was punishable by death, victory was his only option. When he said “the die is cast,” he meant he’d made his play and there was no going back.1
The dye is cast is of course a misspelling, but it’s not as common as we thought it might be. Google finds only around 200,000 instances on the web (versus nearly 10 million instances of the die is cast), and no doubt many are puns.
Nevertheless, the die is cast for class warfare in California this year. [Sacramento Bee]
The die is cast for the college classes of 2016, but next year’s applicants should take note: quality, not quantity, is what matters here. [PolicyMic]
Nevertheless, the die is cast. The Nobel Peace Prize winner has chosen the path of war. [Telegraph]
The die is cast for Mubarak and not even the support of the US can save his government. [quoted in Australian]
True, the people can decide – but the die is cast long before the voters enter their numbers on the ballot-paper. [Letter to Waterford Today]
1. Egypt, Greece, and Rome, Charles Freeman. Oxford University Press, USA, 1999. ↩