Back to square one

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Back to square one is an idiom that seems to have come into use in the mid-twentieth century. We will examine the meaning of the expression back to square one, its etymology, and some examples of its use in sentences.

Going back to square one means to begin again, to start over, to go back to the beginning. When someone must go back to square one, he has lost any progress he has made and has to rethink his position or strategy. Another idiom that means virtually the same thing is go back to the drawing board. Synonyms of the phrase back to square one that may be found in a thesaurus are restart, refresh, reboot. The exact origin of the idiom back to square one is unknown, but most probably has its roots in a game. Board games became popular in the twentieth century, and many attribute the origin of the expression back to square one to the game Snakes and Ladders, known in the United States as Chutes and Ladders. Others believe the phrase originated in the game of hopscotch. In any case, it seems reasonable to assume that the idiom originated in some sort of game play. Related phrases are go back to square one, goes back to square one, going back to square one, went back to square one.


Now, it’s back to square one for what to do with the aging courthouse. (The Corpus Christi Caller Times)

“If we find it to be different than what the theory predicts, then we go back to square one and we say, ‘Clearly, something is not exactly right.’” (Reuters)

There’s even a chance that, in the end, your insurer will decide not to cover the treatment, bringing you back to square one. (The Courier Journal)