Fair and Square

Meaning of Idiom ‘Fair and Square’

Fair and square means completely fair and just; within the rules of a game or competition; straight, directly and with great accuracy (rare). 1Spears, Richard A. McGraw-Hill’s American Idioms Dictionary. Boston: McGraw Hill, 2008.,2Ammer, Christine. American Heritage Dictionary of Idioms. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2013.,3Kirkpatrick, Elizabeth M. The Wordsworth Dictionary of Idioms. Ware: Wordsworth, 1995.,4Ayto, John. Oxford Dictionary of English Idioms. Oxford: Oxford U, 2010.


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Usage

“We both bought the lottery ticket so we should split the winnings fair and square.”

“Our team won fair and square but the coach of the other team is saying we cheated.”

“The arrow hit the bullseye fair and square.”

Origin

In a similar idiom, square deal, the word square means the same thing as fair. Both idioms have been in use since the 1600’s, so the two words in this idiom are redundant. This type of redundancy often serves as an intensifier but it is likely the idiom has survived, as have many such idioms, due to its rhyme. 5Ammer, Christine. American Heritage Dictionary of Idioms. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2013.,6Bengelsdorf, Peter. Idioms in the News – 1,000 Phrases, Real Examples. N.p.: Amz Digital Services, 2012.

The word square comes from the French esquare. Since the 17th century, the word came to be used to mean honest, straightforward, right, or, indeed, fair. It also had the connotation of being solidly built. A person who was honorable and upright might have been called square, which gave rise to the modern slang meaning of a square (person) to mean boring, stodgy, and overly conventional. The present idiom, which uses two words that mean the same thing, is what is known as a tautology.

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Sources   [ + ]

1. Spears, Richard A. McGraw-Hill’s American Idioms Dictionary. Boston: McGraw Hill, 2008.
2, 5. Ammer, Christine. American Heritage Dictionary of Idioms. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2013.
3. Kirkpatrick, Elizabeth M. The Wordsworth Dictionary of Idioms. Ware: Wordsworth, 1995.
4. Ayto, John. Oxford Dictionary of English Idioms. Oxford: Oxford U, 2010.
6. Bengelsdorf, Peter. Idioms in the News – 1,000 Phrases, Real Examples. N.p.: Amz Digital Services, 2012.