Play Russian Roulette

Meaning of Idiom ‘Play Russian Roulette’

To play Russian roulette means to take very large, unpredictable and dangerous risks, potentially fatal; performing any action which, if repeated several times, is likely to have disastrous consequences. 1Heacock, Paul. Cambridge Dictionary of American Idioms]. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 2010., 2Jarvie, Gordon. Bloomsbury Dictionary of Idioms. London: Bloomsbury, 2009.,3McCarthy, Michael. Cambridge International Dictionary of Idioms. Cambridge University Press, 2002,4Collins COBUILD Idioms Dictionary, 3rd ed. © HarperCollins Publishers 2012

Examples Of Use

“By not warning the public about the dangers of the tainted water supply, the government is playing Russian roulette with the public health.”

“The club was cited for allowing too many people to occupy the building at once, in violation of fire codes, playing Russian roulette with its the lives of its patrons.”

“Your check engine light has been on for months. You’re really playing Russian roulette here,” said Dianne.

Play Russian roulette idiom meaning

Origin

Roulette is a gambling game in which a ball is dropped onto a revolving wheel called a roulette wheel. The wheel has numbered compartments and the players bet on which number the ball will come to rest. This idiom is based on a dangerous game popular among Russian imperial officers, consisting of placing one bullet in a six-cylinder revolver, spinning the chamber and firing the gun at one’s head. There was thus a one in six chance of being killed. This game has been known in the United States since at least the 1940s but it is unclear when the phrase “playing Russian roulette” began to be used figuratively.

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Sources   [ + ]

1. Heacock, Paul. Cambridge Dictionary of American Idioms]. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 2010.
2. Jarvie, Gordon. Bloomsbury Dictionary of Idioms. London: Bloomsbury, 2009.
3. McCarthy, Michael. Cambridge International Dictionary of Idioms. Cambridge University Press, 2002
4. Collins COBUILD Idioms Dictionary, 3rd ed. © HarperCollins Publishers 2012