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Back to square one

Back to square one

Let’s get back to square one and talk about the origin of this widely used

Let’s get back to square one and talk about the origin of this widely used idiom.


The origin of this idiom is too good not to directly quote from Linda and Roger Flavell, so here you go!

“A favorite story to explain this idiom goes back to the days before televised sport when soccer enthusiasts would huddle around the wireless listening to live commentary. In the 1920s the Radio Times printed a plan of the pitch which was divided into squares, each with a number. These were referred to in the course of the commentary to show where the action was taking place. Playing the ball back to square one meant losing maximum territorial advantage and, by extension, it meant ‘back to the beginning’. The difficulty with this theory is that the football grid was abandoned around 1940 and no record of the phrase predating 1960 has so far been found.” (page 279)

Another theory is that the phrase came from a popular board game like Snakes and Ladders. In this game, if a player lands on a certain square, they have to start back at the beginning.


As defined in Linda and Roger Flavell’s book Dictionary of Idioms and Their Origins, “back to square one” is an idiom that means to be back where one started (page 279).


While training for a half marathon, Garrett twisted his ankle and broke a bone. After weeks and weeks of minimal activity and healing time, Garrett had to start his training back at square one.