'fair and SQUARE' :)


square – the word of so many context-dependent meanings…
I’d like to learn some. Could you help me?

[four-]square – to characterize a person as honest and open (also I found straight arrow for that)
OR (in youth slang) - “A person who has spent most of his/her life dedicating their life to schoolwork and achieving grades of A and above.” :slight_smile:

all square – often use in sport
keep it square = something like ‘say the truth directly and openly, be honest’ (as far as I understood it :slight_smile: )
be square with smb. – to reckon roundly with smb. (e.g, with a traitor :)), to be quits, even up on

But I need a little extra explanation for the expression call it square!

My dictionary says that call it square[!] is an idiomatic expression (but I failed to find an ‘eatable’ definition in an online Idiom Dictionary).

Particular examples of its use allow six (!) a bit different interpretations /meanings - in the range
from ‘reconcile yourself with (unpleasant) terms’
through ‘it’s all arranged!’ and ‘we’re quits now’ :slight_smile:
to ‘all is well!’ and ‘no hard feelings!’


How can I understand (select :)) the (correct) meaning of the phrase in a particular context?

For example, let’s suppose that the expression had been used as the final phrase in an informal talk about possible cooperative work or activity (but by some reasons being now delayed to start).


Hi Tamara

Here’s how I would understand it:

If I said “Let’s call it square”, the situation might be that I owed someone something, then I gave the person something of about the same value (or did something for the other person) and now I’m suggesting that I see everything as even.

For example, a couple weeks ago I borrowed $10 from Nancy. Today I paid for Nancy’s lunch and the meal cost around $10. I didn’t actually give Nancy her money back, instead I paid for her lunch. When we call it square, that means we agree that I don’t owe Nancy the $10 anymore.


Hi Tamara,

My contribution;

a square meal is a properly balanced meal in contrast to a snack

a square deal is when both sides in an agreement are satisfied

to square the circle is trying to do the impossible

some years ago square was a word describing somebody who was very unfashionable and oldfashioned


Yes, Amy, thank you.
The situation seems the same as used on bits.westhost.com/idioms/id106.htm

(“I bought the pizza; you bought the beer. Let’s call it square.”)

But what about

“We’re having a party at 7 on Saturday. Be there or be square!”

  • with the following interpretation of the meaning
    if you do not come we will think you are(?) call it square

Hi Alan

Thank you for your contribution.
Especially for to square the circle :slight_smile:

The more I learn your language on my own will, the more I like it. Really!


That’s a different “square” idiom. :lol: That one just means that if you don’t come, everyone will think of you as being unfashionable or nerdy (“square”). You’ll hear the idiom said exactly that way: “Be there or be square” Don’t confuse the definition of the idiom with how it’s actually said.

Just like lots of other words, “square” has more than one meaning, :slight_smile:


Amy, I know that this is another idiom.
I only meant that the interpretation of its meaning, given by using ‘call it square’, is rather strange for me.

I don’t understand the meaning of ‘call it square’ here !

By the way, you can also “square off against somone” (oppose directly) :smiley:

OK, now I understand your question (at long last :lol:)

That isn’t intended to be part of the definition of “Be there or be square”. It’s just a link to the “call it square” idiom. They certainly did manage to make it confusing, though, didn’t they?



I heard something like ‘square your papers off’ - in the meaning put them to right. If I didn’t mix up…

Thanks, Amy, I didn’t know the meaning you’ve mentioned.

Ah! Now I see!
Thank you!


  1. square-toed

My dictionary allows two (different) meanings:

  • old-fashioned, out-of-date , conservative =


  • precise , pedantic , punctilious

Which one would you suppose in modern (not old-fashioned, I mean :)) use of English, if you hear that someone is called being ‘square-toed’?
(By the way, last season shoes with ‘square toes’ were fashionable again, weren’t they :))

  1. square one

I have an example “back to square one” where, as I understand, it means “back to the beginning”

It reminds me my childhood when we played in so-called [klassiki] – when you jump on(?) squares drawn by chalk on asphalt – in accordance to strict rules and sequencing. And return to the beginning, if fail.
(hopscotch, yes, now I know the British name of the game)

Then I found a quite good BBC Commentaries on phrases.org.uk/meanings/back … 20one.html
with similar 8) explanation.

In this connection, my question is:
how does square one sounds for your ears when it is used in informal speaking? Does it bring some negative shade ('current failing & back to the begining" - in some sense)
or sound just neutral? (When it is used in informal speaking to characterize (or predict) smb.’s next action.)


Hi Tamara
I’d consider “back to square one” to be a widely used expression — as likely to be used informally as in a business context, for example. The word “back” is key. It indicates that the first attempt was unsuccessful for some reason and therefore you need to return to the beginning and start again.


Hi Amy
Thank you for the explanation.

Can I ask a bit more?
Now, when I’ve googled just with square one (without back to), I can see that it’s quite popular name for different shopping centers, restaurants, etc.
And I can understand the reason (“square number one” = the very beginning, starting point, something basic, true, initial, etc. - implicitly. Right?)

In this context can I imply that back to square one might be (also) understood as ‘returning to background, origins’ – or something the like. Some attractive meaning, I mean. :slight_smile:

This is just my current thought, nothing more. (Just in case :slight_smile: )


Hi Tamara

Maybe you should ask Torsten (the eternal optimist) about this. :wink:

When people go “back to square one”, they return to the beginning of something and have to start again. This can be very frustrating because you’ve already put time and effort into doing or achieving something, but for whatever reason, it didn’t work. So, there is always that negative aspect in “back to square one”.

On the other hand, you’ll have (hopefully) also learned from your mistakes, gained experience and will be able to do it better and very successfully the second time around. :smiley:

But, it’s always desirable not to have to go back to square one a second time. :wink: