Back to Square One

Meanings of “Back to Square One”

The phrase “back to square one” means to come to the starting point without any progress. It also means a person has already spent significant time on the work again. Since then, it had failed, and the person must start the task from the same point where it was started earlier. The phrases are also used for games such as Snakes & Ladders and Hopscotch when a player has to start from the first square.

Origin of “Back to Square One”

The phrase “back to square one” might have originated from the football game during the decade of the 30s. Hence, the phrase was used by commentators. It refers to the first square as a penalty when the players used to step on the wrong square. However, it is also said that it appeared in print format after 1952 trough sports commentaries broadcast on BBC radio.

Examples from Literature

Example #1

Back to Square One by Matty Mullins

In a perfect world, things would have been different
I wish it could have gone the way I planned
I put my heart into your hands
‘Cause I thought I could trust you

I thought I heard you say you’d never leave
I always stood by your side
I thought you’d do the same for me (you’d do the same for me)

All the times I said I loved you
Couldn’t you hear my sincerity?
I always listened, you were always first to speak
I guess I should have listened when this is how they said it would be!

When did all my friends become my enemies?
All this time I just wanted to believe
That I found someone who cared enough to see the best in me
But now I’m back to square one, scared to trust in anything

I never thought I was above you
I’m sorry if I made you feel that way
I’m sorry if I made you thinking
what we had was just a game (just a game)

I always tried to do the right thing (right thing)
I always gave more than I would take
And now I’m staring in the mirror wondering if I’m the one to blame
And this is how they said it would be!

The poet loves his beloved, and he wants to put his heart on the plate to show his sincerity. He also mentions that he wants to make his beloved believe that his feelings are genuine. He even feels sorry if he had crossed limits and has become superior to her. In other words, wherever he goes or rises, he always comes to her which points to the original meanings of the lyric as given in the title.

Example #2

Back to Square One: Old-world Food in a New-world Kitchen by Joyce Esersky Goldstein

Joyce Esersky Goldstein is a great teacher, a restaurateur, and a chef. She had shared more than 240 great recipes that belong to different countries of the different regions. All the recipes have something in common: they all are healthy, organic, and natural. She insists that people must stay in touch with the “food history” which makes them aware of the health and diet interrelations. Hence, her idea stays validated through her recipes. She had beautifully summed up her argument that now people need to work back to the ancient and traditional form of cooking to keep themselves healthy. That is why the phrase has been used in the title of the book to indicate man’s quest for natural life and natural food.

Example #3

Storms of Life: My Story and Yours by Frank L. Dickerson

And your story is probably like this – “I’ve tried all, gave all, done all, and I’ve failed. I’ve struggled, fought, cried, and crawled my way to the breakthrough only to see myself fail and back at square one all over again.” Is that your story? It’s like the saying found in Proverbs 26:11 “as a dog returns back to its vomit, a fool repeats its folly.” We go back to square one of defeat, bad relationships, pity, dead-end spots, or drinking and evening doing drugs. All because we can’t pull ourselves together in power and might to keep on going until our change has come.

This paragraph uses the phrase to describe the author’s life’s situation. He also explains that it becomes easy for the readers to understand it. The phrase has been used twice in the paragraph. The first is a reference from the Biblical allusion, where a dog is said to return to it lick its own spew. It also means that sometimes a person goes back to the things he or she has left behind. In other words, the author means that if we muster up the courage and use our power, we can stop this vicious cycle of “coming back to square one” and stay away from making mistakes.

Example #4

From a News Article – The Economic Journal: 1952

“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.”

Here the phrase is about the Snakes and Ladders or similar board games. As per the game rule, the player faces a longer snake on the Snakes and Ladders game. Depending on the number, the player is swallowed by the snake and sent to square one. Hence, they have to restart the game while others go ahead.

Examples in Sentences

Example #1: “Ultimately, Roger will have to come back to square one, if he does not have the attitude to move forward.”

Example #2: “Martin promised to stay away from gaming. It’s been a week, and he’s back to square one.

Example #3: “If you are back to square one, you can always start and do better than before. There’s no reason to give up.”

Example #4: “Shirley, built the engine from scratch. Her assistant forgot to lock the door. The next day everything was ground. She was back to square one.”

Example #5: “Sometimes parents spend hours asking children to arrange their room. They do it, and the next day their room is back to square one.”