return to square 1 (maybe 1923)

Laurence Horn laurence.horn at YALE.EDU
Wed Nov 4 23:25:13 UTC 2009

At 6:16 PM -0500 11/4/09, Garson O'Toole wrote:
>OED Series One Wordhunt asked about: square one (back to )
>Can you help the OED find out once and for all why we say back to
>square one? Some say it's to do with radio football commentary in the
>20s and 30s (there are commentators' grids in which one section of the
>pitch is labelled '1'). So if this is the case, it's very curious that
>the expression isn't documented until 1960. Or does it come from board
>games like Snakes and Ladders?

That suggestion makes sense (which isn't to say
it's any more than a nice etymythology), but I
don't understand what football commentary would
have to do with "(back to) square one".  Can you

>Do you have an old game which includes
>the instructions to go 'Back To Square One' from earlier?
>A citation dated 1952 was found.
>I found a citation from 1923 for "return to square 1" that is worth
>investigating I think. This is not "back to square one" but perhaps it
>is close enough:
>After this has been accomplished, he is then to return to square 1 and
>to do the series over again and again, and to continue until the
>signal to stop has been given.
>Title: Nervous and Mental Re-education
>Author: Shepherd Ivory Franz
>Publisher: The Macmillan Company, 1923
>Page Number: 82
>The Worldcat data matches the 1923 date for publication. Also,
>Shepherd Ivory Franz was an experimental psychologist in the proper
>time-frame, so this citation is plausible. However, Google only
>displays snippets for this book, and the full context is unclear.
>Maybe someone can look for this reference on paper to see if it
>illuminates the term "square one"?
>Garson O'Toole
>The American Dialect Society -

The American Dialect Society -

More information about the Ads-l mailing list