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See also: Rubicon



The noun is derived from the phrase cross the Rubicon (to make an irreversible decision or to take an action with consequences). Julius Caesar’s crossing of the Rubicon, a small river in northeastern Italy, on 10 January 49 B.C.E., indicated his intention to start a civil war with Pompey. Rubicon is derived from Latin Rubicō, Rubicōn (the Rubicon),[1] possibly from rubeus (red, reddish), from rubeō (to be red), ultimately from Proto-Indo-European *h₁rewdʰ- (red), an allusion to the colour of the river caused by mud deposits.

The verb is derived from the noun.[2]



rubicon (plural rubicons)

  1. A limit that when surpassed cannot be returned from, or an action that when taken cannot be reversed.
    Synonym: point of no return
    • 1787, [Thomas Paine], “Preface”, in Prospects on the Rubicon: Or, An Investigation into the Causes and Consequences of the Politics to be Agitated at the Meeting of Parliament, London: Printed for J[ohn] Debrett, [], →OCLC, page iii:
      Fortunately for England ſhe is yet on the peaceable ſide of the Rubicon; but as the flames once kindled are not alway eaſily extinguiſhed, the hopes of peace are not ſo clear as before the late myſterious diſpute began.
    • 1834 June 16, “Interference”, in The Gleaner, 2nd edition, number 7, Boston, Mass.: Published by Joseph S[torer] Hart, [], →OCLC, column 1:
      So when friends are lied into distrust of each other, and the rubicon has been passed, either by the death of one, or that the light of truth will not break in upon the mist resting upon the other, [...] at a day too late a discovery arises, and the perpetrators of this fruitless crime, console themselves with the saying that it was "all for the sufferer's good.["]
    • 1836 January, James M. Mathews, “Sermon CCVIII. Critical Periods in the Sinner’s Life.”, in Austin Dickinson, editor, The American National Preacher: Or Original Monthly Sermons from Living Ministers of the United States, volume 10, number 8 (number 116 overall), New York, N.Y.: Printed by West & Trow, →OCLC, page 316:
      But, my hearers, there are Rubicons to be passed in our religious and moral course, as well as in our temporal—occasions in the experience of our hearts, which extend their influence so far into the future, that it mainly depends on the decision we then make, and the purposes we then form, whether we shall at last be saved or lost for ever.
    • 1851, Elizabeth Barrett Browning, Casa Guidi Windows. A Poem, London: Chapman & Hall, [], →OCLC, part II, stanza V, page 90:
      Forgive me, ghosts of patriots,— [...] / [...] —for being taught in vain / That while the illegitimate Cæsars show / Of meaner stature than the first full strain, / (Confessed incompetent to conquer Gaul) / They swoon as feebly and cross Rubicons / As rashly as any Julius of them all.
    • 1853 January–June, “Used-up Classical Allusions”, in The British Journal: A Home, Colonial, and General Magazine, volume III, London: John Mortimer, publisher, [], →OCLC, page 322:
      We are always passing the Rubicon, or being called upon to see somebody else pass it. Considering how often it has been passed, the Rubicon ought to be as well bridged as the Thames. [...] Looking back a few years, we find that that heaven-born minister, Pitt [i.e., William Pitt the Younger], crossed the Rubicon time after time; and while he was crossing it, [Napoleon] Buonaparte was constantly crossing it also. Later, our Wellington crossed the Rubicon when he marched against the French in the Peninsula.
    • 1908 February, T[homas] Lawrason Riggs, “On Getting Up”, in J. Howland Auchincloss et al., editors, The Yale Literary Magazine: [], volume LXXIII, number V (number 650 overall), New Haven, Conn.: Published by the editors []; the Tuttle, Moorehouse & Taylor Company, →ISSN, →OCLC, page 226:
      When one is snugly ensconced under several thicknesses of eiderdown, with the frozen water-bottle sending a cracked and mocking leer from the window sill, getting up is the one thing really irrevocable. It becomes the most final of Rubicons, the most suicidal of bridge-burnings, a leap into an abyss of vaguely dreadful activities,—a fantastic world where people stand on their feet and tie neckties.
    • 1970, Social Action, Boston, Mass.: Pilgrim Press for the Council for Social Action of the Congregational and Christian Churches of America, →ISSN, →OCLC, page 62:
      Like [Julius] Caesar, individuals often have little trouble pointing to the rubicons in their own lives. Nor do historians have a hard time determining when the fate of charismatic leaders is sealed. The task of discerning where institutions cross their rubicons, however, is far more difficult, for institutional movements resemble the movement of an amoeba far more than they resemble that of a man.
    • 1991, Anthony K. Campbell, “The Rubicon Hypothesis: A Quantal Framework for Understanding the Molecular Pathway of Cell Activation and Injury”, in C. J. Duncan, editor, Calcium, Oxygen Radicals and Cellular Damage (Society for Experimental Biology Seminar Series; 46), Cambridge, Cambridgeshire, New York, N.Y.: Cambridge University Press, →ISBN, page 194:
      The maintenance of a live cell, the control of its behaviour, its development, its reproduction, and its eventual death, are determined by a series of physical and chemical thresholds, or ‘rubicons’. Only when a specific series of rubicons is crossed at the right time, in the correct order, and at the right location within the cell, will a particular cellular event occur. Similarly the behaviour of an organelle is also determined by the ‘rubicons’ it has crossed.
  2. (card games) Especially in bezique and piquet: a score which, if not achieved by a losing player, increases the player's penalty.
    • 1873 August 1, “Answers to Correspondents. [Piquet.]”, in The Westminster Papers. A Monthly Journal of Chess, Whist, Games of Skill, and the Drama, volume VI, London: W. Kent & Co., [], and W. W. Morgan, []; Edinburgh: J. Menzies & Co.; Dublin: McGlashan & Gill, published 1874, →OCLC, page 84, column 2:
      The game is called a double, and you score 200 instead of 100 when your adversary does not get 100, which, in technical language, is called crossing the Rubicon.
    • 1885, Cavendish [pseudonym; Henry Jones], “Hints to Learners”, in The Laws of Piquet: Edited by “Cavendish” and Adopted by the Portland and Turf Clubs: With a Treatise on the Game, 4th edition, London: Thomas De La Rue & Co., →OCLC, paragraph 12, page 82:
      If you are a good way ahead, and particularly in the last hand but one, if you have a chance of winning a Rubicon, you should make a safe discard, with the view of dividing or winning the cards, in order to keep your adversary back. On the other hand, if the score is much against you, and you are under a Rubicon, you are justified in making a bold discard.
    • 1956, Richard L. Frey, Rules of Games According to Hoyle: Official Rules of More than 200 Popular Games of Skill and Chance with Expert Advice on Winning Play, New York, N.Y.: Fawcett Publications, →OCLC, page 162:
      Brisques are not counted except to determine whether or not there is a rubicon, explained below.
    • 1989, Peter Arnold, editor, Complete Book of Card Games, New York, N.Y.: Gallery Books, →ISBN, page 64, column 1:
      As an example: if a player is well ahead, and sees the opportunity to gain a rubicon, he should discard cautiously and play so as to prevent his opponent from saving the rubicon by scoring 100 points.

Alternative forms[edit]

Related terms[edit]



rubicon (third-person singular simple present rubicons, present participle rubiconing, simple past and past participle rubiconed)

  1. (transitive, card games) Especially in bezique and piquet: to defeat a player who has not achieved the rubicon.
    • 1902 November, Walter Del Mar, “London to Colombo”, in Around the World through Japan, New York, N.Y.: The Macmillan Company; London: Macmillan & Co., Ltd., →OCLC, pages 3–4:
      A curious score was made in a game of piquet with one of the ladies. [...] In the fifth hand she made a piquet and capot, scoring 121 to 0, and in the sixth hand, being the minor, she made a repiquet, taking all but the last trick, counting 111 to 3, totalling 270, and rubiconing her opponent at 99, with a win of 469 points.
    • 1934, J[ohn] Angus Beckett, “The Return Ice-cap Journey”, in Iceland Adventure: The Double Traverse of Vatnajökull by the Cambridge Expedition, London: H. F. & G. Witherby, →OCLC, pages 125–126:
      Fleming initiated me into the mysteries of Bézique, and at once set about rubiconing me, [...]
    • [1954], Helen Fried Joseph, The Family Book of Games and Sports, [Chicago, Ill.]: Popular Mechanics Press, →OCLC, page 167, column 2:
      Ten points are received for the last trick but brisques are only counted if they make a difference as to who is the winner or if a player is rubiconed [...].



  1. ^ Rubicon, n.”, in OED Online Paid subscription required, Oxford, Oxfordshire: Oxford University Press, March 2011; rubicon”, in Lexico,; Oxford University Press, 2019–2022.
  2. ^ rubicon, v.”, in OED Online Paid subscription required, Oxford, Oxfordshire: Oxford University Press, March 2011.

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