Thursday, November 27, 2008

Lou Zocchi Explains It All

The man not only knows his dice, he also knows that the singular of "dice" (meaning random number generators) is "dice." It's a pet peeve of mine, I'll grant, but it's still good to see that I'm not the only English-speaker left in the world who keeps alive the Old Morphological Ways.


  1. My God! I had no idea! The Colonel made a terrific pitch. I'm going to buy nothing but Game Science dice from now on.

    Furthermore, I'm going to find a source of machine-made casino-quality six-sided dice and use those whenever I need a d6.

    Thanks, James! Very cool!

  2. Same as M.gunner, here. Only going to buy Game Science or otherwise high-quality dice from now on.

    I always wondered why casino dice were so much sharper than other I know.

    I noticed that this is Lou's last GenCon. Is he retiring from the dice business, also?

  3. My 1990 Webster's reads: Dice Plural of die. My 1967 Webster's has both 'dice' and 'die', as well as 'dee'.

    There might be some regional etymology in play as well.

  4. Not to be pedantic, but I checked the Oxford English Dictionary. "Die" is the singular, and "dice" is the plural. The singular "die" (spelled "dee") is in evidence as far back as A. D. 1393.

    James, what am I missing? I am always eager to correct my own English, but in this case I can find no evidence that my use of the singular "die" is incorrect.

  5. "Die" as a singular isn't incorrect so much as a neologism based on the transference of the plural for a cutting device to a random number generator. The two words are related but had different morphologies until comparatively recently. The New Fowler's Modern English Usage (1996) still notes that "one of them [i.e. dice] is also called a dice."

  6. English is a language in flux and proper usage changes over time*. Let's reflect on the real issue at hand: how dice are made.

    The colonel made my day by teaching me something I did not know.

    It was like watching Mythbusters.

    Good stuff!

    *It's die!

  7. I hate to break up the amateur hour here, but the singular of "dice" is obviously "douse".

    Tee hee!

  8. Um, no, it isn't a neologism; the dee/dye/dy/die form is specifically quoted in the OED as referring to a singluar of a random number generator with quotes from 1393, c1430, 1570, 1589, 1610 . . .

    You can argue that said use is improper because it is in the minority (to also quote the OED, "The form dice [used as pl. and sing.] is of much more frequent occurrence in gaming and related senses than the singular die,") but it certainly isn't new, and it significantly predates the first use of "die" to mean a cutting implement (1699).

  9. Dude. Allen and Greenbough's "Elementary Guide to Writing in Latin" (1878) includes the translation exercise:

    "Let us advance," exclaimed Caesar, "where the gods direct, and our enemies invite us. Be the die cast!"

    This is a reference to Caesar's crossing of the Rubicon, reported in Suetonius as "alea iacta est" or "alea iacta esto" -- in any case, Allen and Greenbough were referring in the late 1800s to a singular randomizing device, not a cutting device, as a "die."

    Likewise, Mary Shelley, in _Frankenstein,_ in 1918:

    "The die is cast; I have consented to return, if we are not destroyed. Thus are my hopes blasted by cowardice and indecision; I come back ignorant and disappointed. It requires more philosophy than I possess, to bear this injustice with patience."

    That's a randomizing device.

    Oh yeah! It gets better. Shakespeare, _Richard III_ (1592), Act 4, Scene 4: "I have set my life upon the cast / And I will stand the hazard of the die."

    So... if it's a neologism, it's four century old neologism.

  10. that's 1818 for Frankenstein, of course..

  11. BTW, Zocchi indeed rocks. You can't really say you've been to GenCon if you haven't listened to the Zocchi pitch and bought you some High Impact(TM) dice!

  12. I'll readily concede that "die" as the singular form isn't as recent as I had supposed -- but I'll take Colonel Zocchi as an authority on dice over anyone else.

  13. I always plug GameScience whenever I talk to my gaming group. Col. Lou is an institution, and I'm proud to roll precision GameScience. :)

    (How's that for an endorsement?)

  14. too funny..I had no idea. He is quite a character!

  15. I ordered some GS dice from Lou when I heard from some GenCon 2008 attendees that he was retiring: I never had any back in the day. I have to admit, though, that despite their vorpal edges and scientific accuracy, Lou's dice are not as attractive as other dice I own (Q-Workshop Cthulhu dice, I'm thinking of you, among others), so I haven't really been using them :-/

    In that same order, I also bought a dTotal, though, and it rocks! See for the instructions sheet :D


  16. I don't get how sharp edges are in and of themselves good. Yes they help you quickly tell if casino dice have been altered. Yes, rounded edges are associated with the over-tumbling done to the dice of Zocchi's competitors.

    But by themselves I'd think they would be better. A die with rounder edges rolls more readily, has more faces that it can roll over, more time for perturbations to take effect, are more random. Plus they wouldn't have more vulnerable points and edges that might get worn down unevenly anyway, or force higher materials cost.

  17. Furthermore, I'm going to find a source of machine-made casino-quality six-sided dice and use those whenever I need a d6.

    Casino dice are big (19mm thick) and are a bit bulky for RPGs, because multiple d6s are usually rolled. Have you ever rolled up Ability scores with Casino dice? Its not purity! LOL Such dice can hold their edge when rolled on felt, but their edges tend to get scratched with regular use.

    If you need to find such dice, then do a search for "Serialized Casino Dice", or buy them used at a casino. Note: used casino dice typically have a hole drilled through them.

  18. You'll have to take my twenty-sided *die* from my cold, dead fingers. ;-)

  19. As this has been popping up all over... yes, an excellent piece, and GS will have my business when I next load up.



  20. There's no intrinsic benefit to a sharp edge, except that it's less likely to roll off a table. The intrinsic benefit comes from having every edge being identical. With a sharp edge, it's easy to identify if one edge is rounder than the others; with a round edge, it's much more difficult.

  21. I just bought my new dice from Gamescience after watching this - if you can deliver a pitch like that and amuse me for however many minutes that was, you get my business. Here's $9 to you, Lou, for a set of opaque violet dice!

  22. Great videos! I just ordered $61 worth of Lou's dice and I do all my gaming via Fantasy Grounds these days :)

  23. Second video, 2:00 - Zocchi says "do you see a gap between the top die and the bottom die." He seems to use die and dice interchangeably for singular.

    Also, "it leaves a surface like the belly on a pregnant woman." Not quite sure what he means here, but I'm intrigued by the association.

  24. He seems to use die and dice interchangeably for singular.

    He does, although "dice" as the singular seems far and away his preferred usage.

  25. I had the good fortune (and good sense) to sit and talk with Lou Zocchi at Origins last year ('08). I was treated to some wonderful stories and pitches - it may have been the best 20 minutes I've spent a con in years.


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