Back to Square One – Origin & Meaning

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Candace Osmond

Candace Osmond studied Advanced Writing & Editing Essentials at MHC. She’s been an International and USA TODAY Bestselling Author for over a decade. And she’s worked as an Editor for several mid-sized publications. Candace has a keen eye for content editing and a high degree of expertise in Fiction.

If you want to understand more idiomatic expressions to enrich your language skills, you’ve come to the right place. Here, I’ll explain the details behind the meaning of the phrase back to square one and how you can use it correctly. Keep reading to find out.

Back to Square One Meaning Explained

Back to Square One Origin Meaning

Back to square one is a really common phrase that indicates when a person has to start a task or process all over again because their previous attempt failed or the situation has returned to its original state. Imagine playing a board game, and you’re sent back to the starting point—that’s being back to square one.

When I first decided to become an author, I’d spent months researching and planning everything I needed to launch into the thriller genre. Then, at the last minute, I realized I wanted to be a fantasy author, but that was a whole different ball game. So, I had to return to square one with my research and planning.

Back to Square One Origin and Etymology

The phrase back to square one is believed to originate from radio broadcasts of soccer games in the UK in the 1920s and 1930s. The pitch was divided into numbered squares to help listeners visualize the positions on the field. If the ball was passed back to the goalkeeper, it was said to be back to square one.

But there are also theories that it comes from the age-old game of hopscotch. Certain moves would have you hopping right back to the beginning, aka the first square or square one.

Synonyms for Back to Square One

Sometimes, using synonyms can make your language more vibrant and avoid repetition. Here are some alternatives to back to square one.

  • Back to the drawing board
  • Starting from scratch
  • Back to the start
  • Back to basics
  • From the top
  • Starting all over again
  • Back at the beginning

Using Back to Square One: Examples in a Sentence

Back to Square One Origin Meaning 1

Here’s a list of ways you can apply the phrase to different contexts.

  • After the prototype failed, we had to go back to square one and rethink our design.
  • The negotiations fell through, so it was back to square one for the deal.
  • The trial results were inconclusive, so the researchers are back to square one.
  • Amy broke up with John, and now he’s back to square one in his search for love.
  • If our funding for this project doesn’t come through, we’ll return to square one without capital.
  • My original plan to be a famous singer didn’t work out, so I guess it’s back to square one for me.
  • If we can’t agree on the basics of how this works, we might have to go back to square one and start all over.

The End

The phrase back to square one is a simple but powerful idiom that illustrates the need to start again after a setback. Using it in your conversations or writing can make your language more relatable and engaging. So, the next time you have to start a task again, remember you’re not failing; you’re just going back to square one.