Back to square one
Means to start again from the beginning and despite the many claims that the expression is British, the first citation is American from the Economic Journal (1952) where the writer specifically mentioned that readers were often “penalised by having to go back to square one in an intellectual game of snakes and ladders.” Although this is the first appearance of the expression in print, the consensus among etymologists is that the origin is unknown. The two theories about the origin that are most often put forward are both dubious and unproven. The first theory is that it derives from early BBC (British Broadcasting Corporation) radio broadcasts for football matches in the 1920s, where the football pitch was divided into eight squares. A diagram of these eight squares was actually printed in the Radio Times on a number of occasions from 1927 onwards and the squares were indeed used by radio commentators to help listeners follow play during broadcasts. However, the expression back to square one was never used in any commentary, nor would it make any sense in this context as back to the beginning. The second theory is that it derives from either snakes and ladders or hopscotch. Unfortunately, in snakes and ladders, no board sending a player back to square one has yet been found, nor is there any such penalty in the game of hopscotch. Until further evidence is forthcoming, the origin of this expression remains obscure.