Smartie Pants: “Back to Square One”


Although the negotiations were going well, this new information will send us back to square one.

“Back to square one” is a phrase that is commonly understood as indicating the necessity of beginning some project again. But where did this phrase come from?

Three conflicting accounts of the origin of the phrase exist:

1) In the early 20th century, BBC radio journalists divided sports fields into squares which they then used clarify their on-air comments. “Back to square one” is thought to have been a carch phrase indicating a play that returned a ball all the way to the first square–or
“back to square one.”


2) In 1952, this sentence appeared in the Economic Journal:

“He has the problem of maintaining the interest of the reader who is always being sent back to square one in a sort of intellectual game of snakes and ladders.”

But those of us who grew up with Chutes and Ladders (Milton Bradley changed the name of the board game when they released their version in 1943; the British version was Snakes and Ladders which was an anglicized version of an ancient Indian game.) know that there isn’t a particular move that sends you “back to square one”– it all depends on whether you have to take the big slide. So that one seems a bit suspect to me, but who knows?


3) And some think the phrase refers to hopscotch– at the end of a turn, each player goes “back to square one.”

Now don’t you feel smart?

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