Back To Square One

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Meaning of Idiom 'Back to Square One'

To go back to square one means to return to the beginning and repeat something, usually after a plan or effort completely fails; to start over. 1,2

This idiom is used in the same way as back to the drawing board.

Examples Of Use

"Who wrote these instructions? I've worked on this table for an hour and now I see the frame is upside down! It's back to square one."

"If these negotiations fail, I fear we're back to square one."

"The contractor didn't build the porch enclosure to code so it's back to square one. Luckily he's owning up to his mistake!"


This idiom probably derived from a board game or other game where an unlucky dice throw sends a player back to the beginning of the game or the first "square" on the board. During the 1930's, this idiom became more popular because British sportscasters used it in reference to printed radio programs which included a grid with numbered squares, representing the soccer field. Listeners used the programs to follow the description of the game. 3

1. McIntosh, Colin. Cambridge Advanced Learner's Dictionary. Cambridge University Press, 2013.
2. Bengelsdorf, Peter. Idioms in the News - 1,000 Phrases, Real Examples. N.p.: Amz Digital Services, 2012.
3. Ammer, Christine. American Heritage Dictionary of Idioms. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2013.

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