Back to square one

"Back to square one" is a phrase that means to go back to the beginning.

According to the "Oxford English Dictionary", the phrase most likely originated from children's games such as hopscotch and snakes and ladders.cite web | url= | title=Extract revised for OED Online | work=Oxford English Dictionary ] The earliest recorded use of it in print is from a 1952 edition of the "Economic Journal".

An alternative theory is that the phrase originated from early radio commentaries of football matches by the BBC in the United Kingdom.cite web | url= | title=Radio football down the years | work=BBC ] The first live radio commentary featured a Division One match between Arsenal and Sheffield United, broadcast on January 22 1927. A grid of a football pitch divided into eight numbered squares had been printed in the previous week's "Radio Times" so the commentator could describe the ball's location. Square one meant the rear left quadrant of the defender's side of the field.

The theory postulates that whenever a game was restarted from a goal kick, it would be in square one, hence the phrase. However as is clear from the diagram, there are four possible squares from which a goal kick could be taken. Furthermore, the squares system was dropped by the BBC soon after its inception, and the "OED" notes that over 20 years passed between its abandonment and the first recorded use of the phrase in print. A number of recordings of commentary using the system survive; the phrase "back to square one" does not appear in any of them.


Coldplay used the phrase to name the first song in their album "X&Y". "Back to Square One" is also the title of a song by Finnish rapper Paleface.


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