return to square 1 (maybe 1923)
goranson at DUKE.EDU
Thu Nov 5 19:20:17 UTC 2009
Quoting Garson O'Toole <adsgarsonotoole at GMAIL.COM>:
> 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? 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
Garson, the citation is confirmed in a paper copy, except that the title page
has 1924, though the verso has "Copyright 1923 ... Set up and printed.
Published October, 1923.". It's about a re-education movement test:
"...for movement of a different type, I have used a series of squares one inch
to the side arranged in a line as shown in figure 10. The patient sitting at a
table is directed to point his finger at the first square and with successive
backward and forward movements to point to each of the succeeding squares [p.
82] in the series of ten. 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."
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